Real Woman 2022 Dianne Ruiz
Born with pulmonary stenosis, Dianne Ruiz promotes benefits of healthy lifestyle among Hispanic Latinos and others.
When Dianne Ruiz lost her job during the pandemic, she felt out of sorts stuck at home.
She’d always been active since her parents enrolled her in dance classes, softball, basketball and soccer to strengthen her heart after she underwent surgery at just a year old to correct pulmonary stenosis, a congenital heart valve disorder that makes it harder for the heart to pump blood.
“Because of my parents, I fell in love with being active,” Dianne said.
She believes that explains why she’s always on the go, working since she was a junior in high school and, as her friends tease her, never sitting still for too long.
“I have my rhythm,” Dianne said. “(Being busy) maintains my whole being in a weird way.”
But one day, her heart suddenly started racing and she couldn’t catch her breath. It felt as if she couldn’t swallow, and her palms became sweaty.
“There’s a feeling of not being in control of my body,” Dianne said. “I was scared I was having a heart attack, which made me even more anxious. It was a domino effect.”
Turns out, it was just a panic attack — the first of many over the coming months.
Dianne started taking long walks around her Burbank, California neighborhood, listening to podcasts to occupy her time. Women empowerment and self-help are among her favorites. True crime is also a guilty pleasure.
In the process, she lost 20 pounds.
“I knew one day I’d have a job again, and I wanted them to have the best version of me,” said Dianne, noting that she limits food portion sizes, avoids snacking and limits herself to only an occasional glass of wine. “My heart condition has made me more disciplined.”
Around the same time, she met her new cardiologist, who had good news: Other than a murmur, her heart was in great shape. Before sending her on her way, he asked if she’d be willing to get involved with the American Heart Association. Happy to promote heart health and looking for something to keep her busy, she readily agreed.
Soon, she started making videos in English and Spanish to promote an upcoming Heart Walk.
“I was extremely excited,” she said. “It was a perfect time and gave me something fun to do.”
While she saw a cardiologist regularly growing up, this is the first time Dianne’s talked much about being a survivor, surprising many of her family and friends. Some told her that she motivated them to eat healthier and become more active.
“I love inspiring individuals,” she said. “Even if you don’t have a heart condition, you want to be around for your families.”
Not long after, she accepted a job as a seasonal recruiter at a popular media and theme park company, casting people as the iconic characters she had loved as a child. Earlier this year, she was promoted to a permanent position. “It was mind-blowing,” she said. “I thrive off being around people.”
She’s also thrilled to be selected as one of the AHA’s 2022 Real Women and hopes to use the platform to raise awareness about heart disease and the importance of a healthy lifestyle — especially among Latinos.
“Invest in yourself,” she said, “and you’ll never regret it.”