“LIFE’S TOO SHORT”

In the midst of her bit­ter di­vorce bat­tle, Kelly Landry speaks out on mat­ters of the heart.

Sunday Herald Sun - Stellar - - Contents - Pho­tog­ra­phy TIM HUNTER Words JOR­DAN BAKER

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.

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