Heart to Heart


For Colleen and Larry Beard, two hearts beat strong after 36 years of marriage. As survivors of heart disease, this St. Paul couple is living healthy and meaningful lives, thanks to the medical attention and care they received from St. Joseph’s Hospital and the HealthEast Heart Care program.

Colleen, 57, was first diagnosed with heart problems in 1997. She had been having stomach pains for about a month when one day, her arm felt numb. She immediately had her daughter take her to St. Joseph’s hospital. Her diagnosis was acid reflux. Still, her doctor thought it would be a good idea to examine her heart, as women are often under – and misdiagnosed.

In fact, the cardiologist found that Colleen had dilated cardiomyopathy, an enlarged left ventricle. A short time later she was diagnosed with ventricular tachycardia (uncontrolled rapid heartbeat). Colleen remembers the doctor telling her, “I’m going to give you a Mother’s Day present that I’d give my own mother.†He scheduled surgery for a defibrillator implant the very next day, Mother’s Day.

Colleen has since had two other defibrillators implanted over the past 10 years. She’s also suffered three bouts of congestive heart failure and pulmonary edema. About two years ago, she entered St. Joseph’s cardiac rehab program. Today, she feels good enough to work full-time as a secretary at Nativity of Our Lord Catholic School in St. Paul.

At 58, Larry is a retired refinery worker. After Colleen’s diagnosis and subsequent surgeries, he took on the role of caregiver. But in 2000, he was the one needing care when he experienced some trouble breathing. Larry was diagnosed with atrial fibrillation and was put on the blood thinner Coumadin. He then received cardioversion to shock his heart back to a regular rate. Later Larry had an echocardiogram, showing a stenosis of his aortic valve. He underwent an aortic valve replacement (he now “clicksâ€) and has been going through cardiac rehab for six years.

Colleen and Larry are grateful to laugh about their various heart stories. Like the time Colleen was rushing around, picking up last minute items for a holiday party. After stopping at the bank, she ran into Walgreen’s, jumped back into her car, and heard a can of soda from a six-pack pop open and start spraying the interior of her new car. At that moment, her defibrillator went off. She quickly called Larry on the phone to tell him she’d been shocked.

Larry called 911, “My wife’s been shot twice in the parking lot at Walgreen’s!†While he and his daughters were on their way to the hospital, Colleen had to explain to the speedy paramedics that she had not been shot, as her husband had misheard, but rather she’d been shocked.

The Beard’s are optimistic about their health and the well-being of their hearts. They stick to a regimen that includes watching what they eat and staying active. They are thankful to have the chance to share their story with others and give hope – sharing messages straight from the heart.

Colleen and Larry Beard’s Heart-Healthy Maintenance Plan

Cardiac Rehab Participation:

Colleen and Larry both go to rehab three times a week, one hour per session, for a total of three hours of weekly supervised activity per person. Larry goes during the day and Colleen goes after work. Larry spends time on the treadmill and Aerodyne bike; Colleen uses the treadmill, but also gets her heart pumping on the NuStep (the patient sits in a seat and, from a sitting position, pushes steps away from him/her in a repetitive motion). Because both of them are in Phase 3 of their rehab, a cardiac monitor is not used during their activity. However, they do have oxygen saturation, blood pressure, and pulse readings taken at the beginning, halfway point, and ending points of their sessions.

Outside Exercise:

When they are away from St. Joseph’s, Colleen and Larry have different ways of keeping active. Larry is a big walker; he consistently walks around Como Lake 3-4 times per week. Colleen occasionally joins him, but her daily commitment to staying mobile is running up and down the stairs of her school as she handles her assistant duties in-between classrooms.


Colleen and Larry both recognize the importance of stress management, putting life in perspective, and taking every opportunity to relax and enjoy time with each other and with family. Larry can often be found fishing (both ice and open water) and listening to his police scanner (while some might assume this activity would be stressful, Larry has embraced this pursuit for many years and it brings him great joy). Colleen devotes time to reading, crossword puzzles, and playing cribbage.

Medical Care:

Colleen sees her cardiologist every three months. He checks her blood pressure, water retention, and blood chemistries (to make sure one of the medicines she takes doesn’t have an adverse affect on her kidneys). Larry sees a kidney specialist every three to four months, his endocrinologist every other month, and his cardiologist as needed. Neither one uses a home monitoring device.


Because Larry is a diabetic, he is on the diabetic diet. Colleen follows a low-sodium eating plan (less than 2,000 mg per day). Both of them spend time reading labels and avoiding processed foods. They enjoy limited red meat and focus on fresh items, such as veggies and fruits.


Friends and family prayed consistently for both Colleen and Larry’s recoveries. It gave them a sense of peace to know that others were keeping them in their thoughts.

Words of Wisdom:

– If something doesn’t feel right, be seen right away by your physician. You are the best judge of your own health and you know when something is wrong.

– Medical professionals need to be vigilant and not always assume the first diagnosis is the right one: At first, Colleen’s chest pain was thought to be acid reflux, but her doctor took a look at the big picture and didn’t stop there. He ordered a stress test (which revealed abnormalities) and a subsequent echocardiogram that showed cardiomyopathy. Without that sort of comprehensive, thoughtful approach, Colleen might not be here today. n