The family’s story of heart disease inspired her fitness – and brought her to the base of Mount Everest

News Photo: AHA News: The family's story of heart disease inspired her fitness - and brought her to the base of Mount Everest

TUESDAY, May 24, 2022 (American Heart Association News)

Lisa Abbott scoured the American Alpine Club’s online fundraising auction offerings. Climber, ice climber, scuba diver and marathon runner, she liked to daydream about the various trips to be won.

One offer stood out: a two-week guided trek through Nepal’s Khumbu Valley to Mount Everest Base Camp.

As senior vice president of human resources and community affairs at Lifespan, Rhode Island’s largest healthcare system and employer, Lisa couldn’t take a few months off to climb Mount Everest. But reaching base camp, at 17,598 feet, suited his schedule.

“Do you think I should do this?” she asked her father, Gary.

“That’s a very bad idea,” he said playfully.

Retired mental health worker Gary Abbott left California in 2019 to go near Lisa’s home in East Greenwich, Rhode Island.

Over the years, he had grown accustomed to his adventures and their inherent risks. Yet, as a father, he also worried about his safety.

Again, he knew his love of the outdoors came from him.

Gary and his brother used to hike in the Adirondacks. Although he never pursued climbing, he follows the sport.

“It’s something that helped us bond – a shared passion for the mountains,” she said.

Lisa was also close to her father’s father, Tom Abbott, and visited his home in California as often as she could.

Tom not only enjoyed a long life, but was able to live independently until shortly before his death at age 100 in 2019. At 84, he developed coronary heart disease. Open-heart surgery prolonged his life. In the years that followed, doctors inserted stents to open clogged arteries.

Even though Tom developed heart disease in old age, it still meant Gary now had a family history. He was even more at risk because he was overweight and suffered from high blood pressure and type 2 diabetes.

In November 2018, Gary had a massive heart attack.

In December 2018, he had another.

Gary told Lisa he couldn’t believe his bad luck.

“What’s not to believe? she replied, pointing out all her risk factors.

Seeing what her loved ones had been through, Lisa began to think more about her health. She knows you can’t practice a family history.

“I focus on what I can control,” she said. “I’m very physically active, some would mistakenly say, I eat healthy and I don’t smoke.”

She has also dedicated herself to helping others become aware of their risks. It’s an effort that goes from her workplace to her community: She’s chair of the Southern New England Heart Walk on June 11 and she’s in charge of her own team, aptly called “Abbott Adventures.” Her 76-year-old father is using the event as a target date for his own fitness goals, both for weight loss and strength improvement.

Another member of Abbott Adventures is Lawrence Sadwin. A longtime AHA volunteer and past chair of the National Board of Directors, he and Lisa have worked together on various heart health initiatives both through the AHA and his company, as he sits on its board of directors.

Like Lisa, Sadwin’s father and grandfather suffered from heart disease. Unlike Lisa, Sadwin’s family background caught up with him at the age of 40. He underwent triple bypass surgery and has since received several stents to clear blockages in other coronary arteries.

“I’m glad Lisa is ahead of the game,” Sadwin said. “She embodies that kind of person who has seen what heart disease has done to her own family and wants to be active.”

Lisa’s active and adventurous spirit got the better of her at this online auction. She placed the winning bid and recently returned from the trip of a lifetime.


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The hike to the base of Mount Everest was physically and mentally challenging due to the thin air. But it was worth all the effort.

“The views were breathtaking,” she said. “I’ve spent time in high peaks like the Rockies and the Cascades, but these look like hills.”

Lisa realizes that most people aren’t as active as she is. That’s why she tries to think about life choices through the lens of her father and his struggles, knowing that his story is much more common.

“There are so many risk factors under our control,” she said. “Even small changes can make a big difference.”

News from the American Heart Association covers heart and brain health. Any opinions expressed in this story do not reflect the official position of the American Heart Association. Copyright is owned or held by the American Heart Association, Inc., and all rights are reserved. If you have any questions or comments about this story, please email [email protected].

By Diane Daniel, American Heart Association News

By American Heart Association News HealthDay Reporter

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