2024 Go Red for Women Class of Survivors: Lynda Marino

The following is Lynda's story and not an endorsement or diagnosis. Stories have been edited down for time.

Lynda Marino was driving on a busy highway when she suffered a sudden cardiac arrest. Fast-acting bystanders came to her rescue by quickly calling 911 and giving her CPR. She encourages others to learn CPR, so they can be someone else’s hero, too.

At 35, Lynda Marino experienced a sudden cardiac arrest while driving with her 2-year-old daughter in the car. It happened on a Saturday afternoon in 2015 on a very busy four-lane highway in Buffalo, New York. As her car started slowing down, impatient drivers honked and sped around her. Luckily, some fast-acting strangers came to her rescue.

“My life was saved by a number of people that day,” said Lynda, 44. “It starts with a gentleman who was driving behind me and happened to be on the phone with his sister, explaining, ‘Something is really weird with this car. I have to do something.’”

He pulled over, ran to Lynda’s car, opened the door and brought it to a stop. Then a couple noticed the commotion while pumping gas from across the street. The husband pulled Lynda out of the car and started performing CPR while his wife calmed Lynda’s daughter, Claire, in the backseat.

Lynda knows her story could have had a much different ending if strangers didn’t step in to help.

“All of us, as women, often get overlooked for bystander CPR,” she said. “It’s so incredibly important to have the knowledge of how to be someone else’s hero, because you never know. The majority of cardiac arrests happen outside of a medical environment.”

A sheriff quickly arrived with an automated external defibrillator. The AED delivered multiple shocks to Lynda’s heart before she was transported to a hospital. Doctors didn’t know how long her brain went without oxygen or what her condition would be when she woke up. Her recovery was filled with ups and downs. Lynda, who has hypertrophic cardiomyopathy, a thickened heart muscle, was eager to return to raising her kids and her career as marketing director at a continuing care retirement community. Since her cardiac arrest, she has had multiple surgeries and used different implantable devices over the years.

“My life is still in the hands of medical experts to this day,” she said. “I’m fully reliant on my pacemaker. My heart has no natural rhythm on its own, so I’m completely dependent on technology.”

She stresses how heart disease research, clinical trials and new technology will always be needed.

“The technology of today that I have right now isn’t allowing me to live the life that I need to live,” she said. “A new pacemaker will mean being able to take a bike ride with my kids again. It’ll mean taking a longer walk with my dog. It’ll mean throwing the football to my son without feeling short of breath. It’s not about me so much as my family.”

After Lynda’s cardiac arrest, her family started investigating its health history. They found that her father, sister and both of her children are genetically positive for the gene mutation linked to cardiomyopathy.

“We don't know how that will progress in my children,” she said. “I do know that there is a whole team behind them on their journey with potential heart disease. As time goes on, I have a lot of hope for the future of medicine.”

She hopes her experience inspires other women.

“They need to make themselves a priority,” she said. “Women need to acknowledge their feelings, acknowledge when something is wrong and act on it. You can’t be a mom to your kids if you’re not taking care of yourself.”

In December 2023, she was one of the first two recipients at the Cleveland Clinic of a dual-chamber leadless pacemaker that was recently approved by the Food and Drug Administration. The device is implanted directly into the heart through a minimally invasive procedure that eliminates the need for leads (wires). It offers a less restrictive recovery period and fewer complications.

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