“LIFE’S TOO SHORT”
In the midst of her bitter divorce battle, Kelly Landry speaks out on matters of the heart.
There’s a tiny time bomb tucked into the left-hand corner of Kelly Landry’s heart. It’s something she has lived with all her life, but has only known about for a few years. It could tick quietly for decades.
Or it could – one day, out of nowhere – blow up.
Landry has learnt to live with the uncertainty of her heart condition, but it has taught her an important lesson. “It makes you reassess what’s really important in life,” she says. “Life’s really too short; it just is. Not until people are faced with their own mortality does that cliché truly have meaning. You want to grab life, you want to live each moment.”
It has also made her determined to teach her two daughters, Charlize, five, and Thea, three, to get the most from their lives, too. “I want them to be able to listen to their inner voice, their dialogue, about what makes them happy,” she says. “To be able to listen to it and follow their own dreams and wishes, so they don’t end up listening to someone else’s.”
That lesson in perspective has no doubt been helping Landry, 37, through one of the most traumatic periods of her life.
On the evening Stellar speaks with Landry, she has spent the day in a bitter courtroom battle with her estranged husband, so-called accountant to the stars Anthony Bell, in which claims and counterclaims about their finances, arguments and most private moments have been made public and reported by the national press.
Landry says that despite her difficult week, she took solace in the fact she stood up for herself. “It was important for me, as a mother and a woman, to set an example for my girls and other women out there,” she explains.
Instead of shutting her door on the world ahead of another difficult day in court, Landry is sitting in bed with her daughters, using the only time she has available to talk to Stellar about her heart, and its faulty mechanics.
Landry has a spongy heart. Or, to use the technical term, left ventricular non-compaction, which means that there are little holes in the left section of heart muscle, like honeycomb, so it doesn’t pump properly.
The condition is genetic – Landry’s mother and sister have it too – but of the three, her case is the most severe. “They don’t know what the long-term
prognosis is,” says Landry, a former television presenter. “The greatest risk with the particular heart condition I have is stroke and sudden death.”
Before the messy breakdown of the former Nine Network presenter’s high-profile marriage in January, she had begun working with the Heart Foundation to raise awareness of heart disease, the biggest killer of Australian women. “I want to get involved, to get the messaging out there,” she says. With the Heart Foundation’s annual Making The Invisible Visible campaign launching around the country next month, Landry believes there is much work to be done in raising women’s awareness about this aspect of their health. “One woman dies of heart disease every hour,” she notes.
Landry has had heart palpitations since she was a teenager, but there was no official diagnosis, nor any suspicion anything was seriously wrong, until six years ago when, late in her first pregnancy, her heart began racing at 210 beats per minute. After Charlize was safely delivered, surgeons attempted to fit a defibrillator, but an artery gave way a week later and she was rushed to hospital, thinking she was going to die.
During her second pregnancy, Landry spent four months on the heart ward after going into the early stages of heart failure at 20 weeks gestation. “The best way to describe it was breathing through a straw into a paper bag while running a marathon,” she says. “I couldn’t catch my breath, I always felt starved of oxygen.”
In the most severe cases of the condition, sufferers might die after running a marathon, or go to sleep and never wake up. The fact that Landry’s heart survived the stress of two pregnancies is a good indication that hers isn’t on the worst end of the spectrum, but there are no guarantees, and she has learnt to live with the shadow it casts over her life.
Landry has written letters to her daughters, should anything happen: “I try to update them when I can. My daughters are my absolute everything.”
As Landry’s daughters are so young, doctors have not been able to determine whether they have inherited their mother’s condition. Charlize is old enough to have undergone one test that has left them confident that even if she has the defect, it is not as severe as her mother’s.
Landry must keep herself healthy and avoid things that trigger heart palpitations, such as dehydration or lack of sleep or stress. She can control the first two by eating well, and going to bed at the same time as her daughters. But the third is tricky. There are few things more stressful than a nasty marriage breakdown, played out in public.
Yet Landry says the four months she spent in hospital while pregnant with Thea, worrying about her unborn baby and missing her daughter Charlize, taught her how to manage her thoughts. “I had time to sit back and be within myself and… really think about life and about everything. I just have a strong connection with myself,” she says.
Allegations about her drinking habits were among the things dragged through court, but Landry says the reality of her heart condition means she must always be careful about her consumption. “I have to stay healthy, I have young children who need me,” she tells Stellar.
“When I find I am in a stressful situation, I feel like I have taught myself how to remove myself from it,” she says. “So I am present when I need to be, but when I walk away from it, when I am not having to deal with it, I try as best as I can to switch my mind off it; to steer myself into something else, whether it’s playing a silly game on my iphone, or binge-watching a television series, or reading a book – whatever it is I feel my body needs to do that day. It’s hard sometimes. It’s good in theory.”
Divorces, especially ones as bitter as Landry’s, can drag on for years. But she is already looking ahead, and making plans for her new life.
She is thinking about re-training. Landry wouldn’t necessarily leave the media, but maybe bring new knowledge to her old profession. “I want to learn something that’s different to what I’ve already learnt,” she says. “I am interested in health and nutrition, and medicine and psychology. I feel like I want to learn more about it. I don’t know, I am at such a crossroads at the moment.”
Yet when it comes to her daughters, Landry knows exactly what she wants: to create a happy and harmonious home for them, and to teach them how to distil what’s really important in life.
“I think it’s very easy for people, especially in the affluent eastern suburbs of Sydney, to get caught up in materialism and things that are distracting and a lot less important,” says Landry. “I want to break it down as often as I can and as much as I can [to them], so they can strip things away and differentiate between what’s real and meaningful, and what they are programmed to think is real and meaningful.” Visit invisiblevisible.org.au.
“It was important for me, as a mother and a woman, to set an example for my girls”
COURTROOM DRAMAS (from top) Kelly Landry outside court on May 4 for a hearing in which her estranged husband Anthony Bell was challenging an AVO application; Bell (centre) leaving the court; the couple celebrating line honours at the 2016 Sydney to Hobart Yacht Race; Landry and Bell in happier times with their two daughters, Thea (left) and Charlize.