Susan Lucci and Her Husband Discuss His Heart Condition, Stroke Prevention
For more than 40 years, Susan Lucci, 63, has played Pine Valley's manipulative and fearless Erica Kane on "All My Children," leading the soap opera star to act out some truly bizarre scenarios.
But, on rare day off 11 years ago, Lucci received a phone call from her husband, Helmut Huber, 73, that sent chills down her spine, a feeling her TV persona is not familiar with.
Huber had seen his doctor to have a minor shoulder procedure performed, when it was discovered he had atrial fibrillation (AFib), a type of irregular heartbeat that can increase a person's chance of having a stroke by five times.
Lucci took a cue from her character and sprang into action, refusing to let his condition get the best of her or Huber, whom she married in 1969. The couple have two children, actress Liza Huber, 35, and golfer Andreas Huber, 30. Liza is also the mom of Lucci and Huber's two grandsons, Royce, 3, and Brendan, 2.
In an effort to spread the word about AFib, which affects more than 2.3 million people, the couple recently launched the Facing AFib campaign. Lucci and Huber sat down with ParentDish to talk about the condition.
ParentDish: Helmut, what was your reaction when the doctors diagnosed you with AFib?
Helmut Huber: My legs started shaking, I was so terrified. I was healthy as an ox, never had any symptoms, not to mention how there was no history of it in my family.
ParentDish: Susan, did you fall apart?
Susan Lucci: Thank God I was home. My only focus at that moment was to find out what Helmut had. I started calling everyone I knew and was soon led to St. Francis Hospital in Long Island, which not only is 10 minutes from our home, but they had a great team of cardiologists.
PD: Since we are talking 11 years ago and the Internet wasn't then what it is today, where did you gather your information?
HH: I talked to my friends to find a great doctor.
PD: Research indicates 30 percent of those who have AFib don't experience symptoms and therefore don't know they have it. But what are symptoms people should be aware of?
HH: Shortness of breath, a racing heart, a fluttering feeling and dizziness.
PD: How did you tell your two children their dad has a heart condition?
SL: I wanted him to tell them the information and then decide what he wanted to say. I wanted to be careful because we did not want to scare them.
HH: I was blunt. I said, "look, I have a bad heart, so now you guys have to be extra nice to me." (Laughs.)
PD: How did they take the news?
HH: I assured them I was being watched over, by a great team of doctors, and that I was on proper medication. I also told them I would now be following a healthy diet, which means my favorite hot dogs are out.
PD: About 55 percent of AFib patients have altered their lifestyles because they live in fear, while more than 40 percent go on as if nothing ever happened. Which side do you fall on?
HH: I am in between. I have a plan set up so I can still ski, golf and exercise.
PD: Does Susan make you carry a cell phone in case of emergency?
HH: She makes me take it to get the mail, the newspaper, basically everywhere I go. (Laughs.)
PD: Susan, what is your role in keeping him healthy?
SL: I have gone to a number of doctor appointments, so I have all the information I need to know. In terms of diet, my daughter and I make him eat fresh fruit, grilled salmon, lots of fish and vegetables, too. Diet plays a key role in preventing having a stroke.
PD: Are you scared of having a stroke because your chances are greater than some people?
HH: I don't necessarily live in fear, but it is always in the back of my mind.
SL: I don't live in fear day to day, but what's frightening is knowing that his chances of having a stroke are five times greater and it can be fatal. That thought makes my knees shake.
PD: Now that you both are the faces of this campaign, what is your goal going forward?
SL: We taped a public service announcement to say even if you are healthy, get a check up because an EKG will show immediately if you have AFib.
PD: Susan, since you now film "All My Children" on the West Coast, do you let Helmut fly back and forth with you?
SL: Yes, because he is able to walk around on the plane and the doctors have cleared him to fly.
PD: You strike me as a fun couple. What do you do to let loose?
SL: We love dancing and are going to a wedding next weekend where we will dance a lot. We go skiing as a family, we take walks on the beach and spend Sunday nights having a pizza party with our son, daughter, her husband and their two boys. One of our grandsons is 2 years old and the other is 3 years old. Those days are such a thrill.
PD: Is there a resource you find particularly helpful for people to to learn more about AFib?
SL: Yes. They can go to FacingAfib.com and StopAFib.org.
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