CARLSBAD — Linda LeVier, 70, celebrated the fourth anniversary of her heart transplant surgery to cheers and applause on April Fools’ Day during lunch at the Carlsbad Senior Center.
Choosing April Fools’ for the celebration was no joke. LeVier had the life-saving surgery on April Fool’s Day 2007 at Sharp Memorial Hospital.
“Who knew when I put that pink dot on my driver’s license, that that would be me,” she told the audience, a reference to being an organ recipient. “I want to use my experience as a ‘hook’ to tell you about the importance of laughter.”
LeVier’s story began in 2004 when she visited her doctor for a routine physical. She insisted on a stress test, following her daughter’s suggestion after reading an article on senior health. LeVier’s physician balked, saying she was her “healthiest patient,” but gave in and scheduled a treadmill test at Scripps Green.
After the test a physician asked LeVier to remain in the hospital for a few days. Soon bypass surgery was scheduled on what ultimately were five severely blocked arteries. Matters were made worse when LeVier suffered an adverse reaction to the medication she was given during surgery. Although the physicians worked hard to save her life, the damage was done.
“I entered the hospital with a strong heart and blocked arteries,” she explained. “Due to complications, I ended up with open arteries and a weakened heart. This translated into congestive heart failure.”
Very early in life LeVier became aware of a genetic predisposition to congestive heart disease. Consequently, she adopted a heart-healthy lifestyle that included a low-salt, low-fat diet and regular workouts at the gym. With the knowledge that she was already doing all the right things, she thought that there was something missing: laughter.
In 2006 LeVier began taking a Laughter Yoga class at the Carlsbad Senior Center led by Gaga Barnes. Founded by Dr. Madan Kataria, today Laughter Yoga is taught in 60 countries including Iran.
Soon LeVier learned that despite her best efforts, her health crisis wasn’t over.
“On the same day that I asked my doctor if I would qualify for a handicap parking placard he was preparing to tell me that he and his medical team believed that I would benefit from having a heart transplant,” LeVier remembered. “I thought, ‘Am I that sick?’ That hadn’t occurred to me!”
She survived the surgery, which took place April 1, 2007, at Scripps Green Hospital.
“The laughter class was the reason I did well,” she explains. “I believe that laughter is a seriously healthy activity — I do it whether I feel like it or not.”
She adds that younger generations would benefit as well.
“We want younger people to learn about Laughter Yoga because it reduces stress without alcohol or chocolate,” she said. “They are multitasking all the time, and I don’t want them to ever go through this.”
Laughter Yoga is offered for free at the Carlsbad Senior Center between 10:30 and 11:30 a.m. on Thursdays.
Jane Allen has been taking the class for three years.
“My husband had just died and he made me laugh,” she said. “I figured that laughter was something that I missed in my life. We get to be silly in the class, like children, and there’s nothing wrong with that.”
In July of 2009 LeVier took the training to become a Laughter Yoga leader herself. The first class she led was at Las Villas de Carlsbad.
The experience inspired LeVier to take her knowledge to older seniors who would not ordinarily be able to travel to a senior center. She launched Laughing Linda’s Health Heart Adventures and to date offers Laughter Yoga at assisted living facilities including GlenBrook in Carlsbad, and Pacific Place and Emeritus Senior Living in Oceanside.
“Today, I’m using my heart transplant story to tell people about how laughter helped me with challenges,” she said.
LeVier said she’s recruiting “leaders, believers and volunteers.” For more information, visit linkinglaughinghearts.org or contact LeVier at (760) 845-6819 or LindasLaughingHearts@gmail.com.
LeVier also gives kudos to her surgical team: Dr. J. Thomas Heywood, Scripps Green and Dr. Brian Jaski and Dr. Robert Adamson who performed her open heart surgery at Sharp Memorial.
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