El Dorado News-Times
Danyelle Musselman shares heart health journey at Healthy Woman event
The Medical Center of South Arkansas’s Healthy Woman Board held its annual Healthy Heart, Healthy You luncheon Thursday, and Danyelle Musselman travelled from Fayetteville to emcee and speak at the event.
Musselman, a former sports journalist, said she typically doesn’t speak during basketball season, but she made an exception for the Healthy Heart luncheon because the issue is important to her. She is the wife of the Arkansas Razorbacks’ head men’s basketball coach, Eric Musselman.
The annual luncheon was held this year for the first time since 2020; MCSA had to put the kibosh on the 2021 and 2022 events due to the COVID-19 pandemic. This year’s event was held in tribute to Kyra Dismuke, a former member of the Healthy Woman Board and habitual volunteer in the community, who passed away in 2021.
Healthy Woman Board President Karen Bryant started the program by presenting Dismuke’s husband, James, with a token of the board’s appreciation.
“Her absence is missed,” Bryant said. “We are especially missing her today, because she would have been everywhere today.”
Musselman said her father grew up in Magnolia, but Thursday was the first time she’d visited El Dorado. She said she noticed the difference in climate between El Dorado and Fayetteville, noting the blooms starting to pop out on foliage here in south Arkansas.
She was still in college in Florida when she got a call that her father had suffered a heart attack.
“He was 56 years old – which, at the time, he was my dad, but now that I’m 40-something, I realize how young 56 is to die of a heart attack. On the outside, he wasn’t a person who looked like they were going to suffer a heart attack; he was in great shape, he didn’t smoke, he didn’t drink, he did all of the things,” she said.
Musselman was 18 when her dad passed away from the heart attack, and she said at the time, it didn’t strike her that heart disease may run in her family.
“You don’t think so much about health, and heart health; you sort of feel kind of invincible,” she said. “I really didn’t think about anything – about having a heart issue myself, or anyone else in my family.”
But when she was pregnant with her daughter 13 years later and suddenly experienced
what seemed like severe migraine symptoms, the need to focus on her health suddenly came into clear focus for Musselman, she said.
“After further testing, we found out that I had had a stroke and that stroke was caused by something called a PFO, which is a hole between the chambers of your heart, and when you’re pregnant, there’s blood clots going all around and it puts a lot of pressure on your heart, and it pushed a blood clot through that hole in my heart and went up to my brain,” she explained.
“By the grace of God,” Musselman’s recovery was swift, and her daughter was born healthy. But she didn’t forget about what had happened to her.
“It’s always been something kind of in the back of my mind, since then. I suffered a stroke at the age of 31, and it’s hard sometimes to even say those words, because 31 is still pretty young,” she said.
About a year before the Musselman family moved to Arkansas, heart disease struck Danyelle’s family again. This time, her younger sister was sick. At first, she thought she might just have a lingering cold, but eventually, she couldn’t sleep for all the coughing. She went to an urgent care clinic, where her husband convinced doctors to give her a chest X-Ray.
“They did that chest X-Ray and came back and said, ‘you need to see a cardiologist in the morning. Your heart is extremely enlarged,’” Musselman said.
A cardiologist told Musselman’s sister that her heart was only operating at 10% function.
“This was a 38-year-old, active woman, who, like my dad, looked completely healthy on the outside,” Musselman said.
Eventually, Musselman’s sister received a pacemaker, and then she learned she would need a heart transplant.
“You don’t, generally, know too many people that have had a heart transplant, or need a heart transplant. You really feel kind of lost if that’s you, or a friend or a family member,” Musselman said.
Within a week of being added to the transplant list, a heart became available for Musselman’s sister. Three and a half years later, Musselman’s sister is healthy, she said. After seeing her sister’s journey, she decided to focus on her own health, as well.
“Knowing that I have had this family history and knowing I have had my own issues, about a year and a half ago, I was like, ‘Okay, I know I’m getting into my mid-40s; I need to go get like the whole battery of tests run,’” Musselman said. “I did all of them – the stress test, they made sure that all of my arteries were clear, all of those things. I went through all of this thinking everything was just fine, I felt fine.”
Two weeks later, a nurse called and told Musselman she was suffering from heart failure. A collective gasp could be heard throughout the Conference Center when Musselman divulged that fact.
“I was fighting back tears. Having seen my sister go through everything that she had just went through, my mind is thinking, like, ‘heart transplant, near death,’ all of these awful things,” Musselman said.
Doctors were aggressive in prescribing Musselman medication for her heart disease, and now, at 43, she is as healthy as she can be. But, she noted, even before she was diagnosed with heart failure, she never experienced symptoms typically associated with it.
“I wasn’t getting winded walking upstairs. I could still do all of my workouts like I normally have. My weight wasn’t fluctuating,” she said. “I did not know that I had anything going on with my heart.”
Musselman emphasized that heart disease doesn’t look a certain way, and anyone could be suffering from a hidden heart problem. A healthy lifestyle is important, she said, but keeping tabs on one’s health can be a game-changer regardless of one’s daily habits.
“Just because you don’t have all of those outside things that you can work on or change does not mean that you do not need to stay on top of your health,” she said. “Stay on top of everything. Protect your heart health. Know your numbers. If you sense that something is wrong, go check it out and advocate for yourself.”
Alison Alderson, admissions director at Courtyard Rehabilitation & Health, also shared her heart health story during the event. Alderson suffered a “big, nasty, ugly heart attack” on Dec. 27 – “the widowmaker heart attack,” from which Alderson said only 12% of sufferers survive.
According to the Cleveland Clinic, the “widowmaker” heart attack can occur when one has a blockage in the biggest artery in their heart.
Before her heart attack, Alderson noticed “chest discomfort.”
“I would not call it chest pain. I had chest discomfort,” she said.
She also didn’t have any pre-existing conditions that would have made her more susceptible to a heart attack, other than stress, she said. EKG tests came back normal, and her blood pressure was also normal. She felt fine, until she went into work one day and suddenly was struck by “the most awful, gripping contraction” on her heart.
Alderson went straight to the emergency room at MCSA, where she “coded” – went into cardiac arrest.
“This team of angels worked for two hours to save my life. My body was trying to die,” Alderson said.
No local pilots were available to transport Alderson to Little Rock for further treatment, but pilots from the Hot Springs National Park made it to El Dorado to fly her to Baptist Health. There, cardiologists found 100% blockage of her left anterior descending (LAD) artery. They gave her a stent, but as she was being prepared to recover in the Baptist Health ICU, she went into cardiac arrest again, this time for 25 minutes.
Alderson was placed on an ECMO life support machine, which oxygenated her blood for her, taking some of the strain off her heart and lungs.
“There is no Plan B after that,” Alderson said.
Alderson was sedated for five days and woke up on New Year’s Day. She remained hospitalized through Jan. 9.
“I’m here today and I can speak to you and talk to you and tell you that God still does miracles,” she said. “Just know that your prayers matter. Pray for our medical professionals, pray for our hospital, pray for our administrators. We all need it. Everyone of us needs each other to pray.”
Alderson said she wouldn’t be alive today without the prayers of her loved ones and the medical professionals at MCSA and Baptist Health.
Thursday’s event served as a fundraiser for the Healthy Woman Board, which planned to donate funds raised to the MCSA Auxiliary, a nonprofit through which volunteers assist patients and with other operations at MCSA.
Murphy-Pitard Jewelers donated a necklace valued at almost $3,000 to be raffled off during the event, and Musselman brought a basketball signed by the current Razorbacks basketball team, as well as four tickets to the Hogs’ last home game of the year, scheduled for March 4.
MCSA CEO David Fox said events like Thursday’s can serve as an important messaging tool, to get the word out about heart health awareness.
“Heart disease is the leading cause of death in Arkansas and the United States… By taking the time, such as today, to promote heart health awareness with events and gatherings such as this very one, we can help reduce the risk of heart disease and save lives,” he said.
For more information about heart care and resources available locally, visit themedcenter.net/cardiac-care.