The Silent Killer

February 1st, 2017

Rhonda De La Moriniere is an advocate for the American Heart Association

Mom of three shares how she survived 20 years of undiagnosed heart disease

For over 20 years, Rhonda De La Moriniere, a Bay Area mother of three, has been battling an internal war.

“I began having vertigo in my mid-twenties that was just explained away as being related to ear infections from my teens,” said De La Moriniere. “As the years went on, the symptoms became more pronounced.”

Those symptoms ranged from shortness of breath, pressure in her chest, numbness in her fingers and toes, fatigue, headaches, heat intolerance and low blood pressure.

De La Moriniere continued to see different doctors for years, being diagnosed with an ear infection, a kidney infection, Multiple Sclerosis and the autoimmune disorder, Lupus.

Then in 2013, she experienced something that forever changed her life. De La says, “I was an elementary school counselor and was at the school when I experienced weakness and numbing in my left hand. My left side became noticeably weaker and I lost all awareness for a moment and I felt suddenly confused. ”

It was then that a friend told De La Moriniere that it was time to go to the hospital. “She told me to get to the hospital as soon as possible and her brother in law [ a neurologist] would be waiting for me. He ended up being the one to finally diagnose my blood clotting disorder,” said De La Moriniere. “Had I not listened to her, I’m pretty sure I would not be here today.”

Not only did De La Moriniere have a blood clotting disorder, she had suffered a stroke and had been suffering from strokes for years. She had a “condition in which the two valve flaps of the mitral valve do not close smoothly or evenly, but instead prolapse or bulge upward into the left atrium.” On top of that, she had a congenital heart defect called Patent Foramen Ovale (PFO).

PFO is a hole in the heart that is “in the wall between the left and right atria of every human fetus. This hole allows blood to bypass the fetal lungs,” per the American Stroke Association (ASA). For 75 percent of Americans, the hole closes on its own once the newborn takes its first breaths. But according to the ASA, for the remaining 35 percent the hole does not close, causing the PFO.

Through the American Heart Association and American Stroke Association, research is currently being funded to properly diagnose and treat congenital heart defects at birth.

One early test that’s helped find congenital heart defects is a simple exam called pulse oximetry, which can “measure oxygen levels through a toe or finger monitor.”

“I was overjoyed to learn that they were making sure that every baby is now screened for PFO in the U.S. Until I began to link up with the AHA, I never realized how many younger women, like myself have strokes. I am so happy that there are others out there taking notice and advocating for us,” said De La Moriniere.

Over the past five years, the AHA and other groups have lobbied to pass measures in almost every state requiring the exam before babies leave the hospital.

The AHA and The Children’s Heart Foundation jointly committed to at least $22.5 million over the next two years to support innovative research projects on CHDs.

“How many of us have slipped through the cracks because we are not yet experiencing the benefits that AHA has provided?” said De La Moriniere. “I want to convey to women to take responsibility for their own lives and health. Your heart and brain matter! Do your research. Listen to yourself!”

De La Moriniere will be joining the Bay Area Go Red for Women Luncheon on Friday, Feb. 24 at the South Shore Harbour Resort & Conference Center to help educate more women on their risk factors for heart disease and stroke. To find out more or to buy tickets, visit

Bay Area Houston Magazine