Lisa with CHD researcher Professor Livia Hool at the Institute's WA Hub

Lisa Bennett's Story -Congenital Heart Disease

Lisa thought her childhood heart issues were under control, until a heart check revealed a serious problem

When Lisa Bennett was four months old, her mother took her to the GP thinking she was suffering from just a bad cold. But a routine check-up was turned on its head when her parents were told their baby daughter had congenital heart disease – a condition which affects around 3000 babies each year.

Lisa had a heart murmur, which the doctors found out was due to a bicuspid aortic valve - where the valve has two flaps instead of the usual three - and aortic narrowing, which would require surgery within weeks.

Thankfully, the surgery to fix the aortic narrowing went well and other than cardiologist check-ups every two years Lisa’s life returned to normal.

So normal that as Lisa moved into adulthood, she stopped getting her heart checked.

“Every time I went to see the cardiologist the answer was always the same, that everything looked fine – so I figured if nothing’s wrong why keep going?” recalls Lisa.

But that all changed in late 2019 when a heart check revealed a serious problem.

“My cardiologist explained my aortic valve was thick and slow, and because of this faulty valve my aorta had thickened and would need to be repaired as there was a chance that it could rupture,” Lisa said.

Lisa was advised that she would need to have surgery to replace the valve and repair the aorta within the next five years. She was put on the waiting list, but then COVID hit and her surgery was delayed until November 2020.

Lisa in hospital after her surgery

Lisa had hoped to have her valve replaced with a valve from a human donor, rather than a mechanical value - which she was advised could make having children more difficult and would require her to take blood thinning medication for the rest of her life to reduce the risk of blood clots.

Unfortunately, things didn’t go as planned during surgery, and Lisa ended up with a new mechanical valve.

“It didn’t really hit me it until I got home. I was now on warfarin daily, but what really sparked the reality of the situation for me was hearing the ticking of the valve,” says Lisa.

“I had to shower and as I was drying myself I could hear this sound. At first, I thought it was the shower head leaking, but then I looked down at my chest and realised that it was the valve in me and that sort of just broke me.”

Coming to grips with life post-surgery is an ongoing process, but looking back now Lisa knows just how lucky she was to have the surgery when she did.

“The surgeon said that my aorta was worse than they expected – he said it could have ruptured within weeks,” says Lisa.

“They don’t know what happened – whether things escalated while I was waiting for surgery, or if the tests weren’t picking up the extent of the issue – but I just remember thinking I could have died.”

Not only did Lisa survive, but she is making the most of life by ensuring others don’t have to go through the same isolation she experienced pre-surgery.

“I've shared my experiences on social media and I've connected with quite a few people who are in a similar situation – particularly young people because I found that a lot of the support out there for people who had been through open heart surgery was for older people,” says Lisa.

“I have also been lucky to meet quite a lot of women who have had the same surgery and gone on to have children. So now I can see that even though the procedure didn’t go as I hoped, it's not all doom and gloom.”

Lisa has also rekindled her passion for pageants – which she started competing in in 2015 to boost her confidence before having to put things on hold due to her health issues.

Lisa being crowned Ms Galaxy Australia 2023

Pageant life is going so well for Lisa that she was recently named Ms Galaxy Australia 2023.

“It feels great to know that things can be amazing after surgery - yes, it threw a spanner in the works, that it won't stop me from pursuing the things I want to pursue,” says Lisa.

Now that Lisa has a platform, she is eager to promote the importance of heart health research and maintaining good heart health at every age. Lisa also visited the Institute's WA centre at the University of Western Australia to see first-hand the work being done to change the lives of people with heart disease.

“The main thing I want to encourage people to do is to get check-ups and stay on top of things – even if you think you’re healthy and things are fine, that one visit to your doctor could save your life,” says Lisa.

Acknowledgement of Country

The Victor Chang Cardiac Research Institute acknowledges Traditional Owners of Country throughout Australia and recognises the continuing connection to lands, waters and communities. We pay our respect to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultures; and to Elders past and present.

Victor Chang Cardiac Research Institute - The Home of Heart Research for 30 Years