Dignity Health Glendale crowns 'Kings and Queens of Hearts'

Dignity Health Glendale Memorial Hospital on Thursday honored five of this year's patients who have overcome major heart ailments and become role models of recovery.

The 22nd annual "Kings and Queens of Hearts" recognizes patients chosen by the hospital's cardiac fitness staff based on exemplary efforts made to change their lifestyle to suit their cardiac risk factors. These include years of sticking to a tailored exercise and diet plan and attending the cardiac gym at least three times a week.

The five patients, Karo Avanessian, Anik Narinians, Joe Selph, Suzy Zavala and Ludmila Gibbons all previously experienced a major cardiac event. After completing a 12-month cardiac rehab program, they committed to working out at the cardiac fitness center.

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Michelle Galanti, director of cardiology and in-patient transportation, organized the event around free morning cardiac screenings and educational booths as well as lectures in prevention and treatment.

"We focus on the fact that the disease process is not cured, that the disease process is ongoing," Galanti said. "The patients needs to focus on the risk factors that lead to coronary artery disease, and that's where exercise and dietary intervention come into play, so we encourage them to come to our cardiac rehab program."

All awardees were crowned at the cardiac fitness center gym before a crowd of about 40 right after a presentation by the center's medical director, Lawrence O'Connor.

Selph, the "Junior King" awardee, said he didn't know he was having a heart attack a year ago and thought it was merely bad heartburn. Two weeks later, he discovered he'd experienced a major heart attack. A stent was eventually put in place, as well as a device that monitors for an irregular heartbeat.

"I'm not overweight, I don't smoke, I don't have high blood pressure, and I don't have high cholesterol — those big risk factors that everyone associates with heart disease," Selph said. "It goes to show you that it can happen to anyone."

Similarly, kindergarten teacher Zavala — the "Junior Queen" — had a heart attack and then received two stents in June of last year. She graduated the cardiac fitness program shortly thereafter and called the ordeal "a wake-up call."

Avanessian and Narinians, both Iranian immigrants living in Glendale, earned the senior king and queen titles, respectively.

Ludmilla, 90, was crowned the "Young at Heart" on Thursday. She had open-heart surgery in 2011 at Cedars Sinai Medical Center and joined the cardiac fitness center at Glendale Memorial after a recommendation from her friends.

"Patients here are showing that there is life after heart disease," Galanti said after the five honorees were crowned.

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Jeff Landa, jeff.landa@latimes.com

Twitter: @JeffLanda

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