By Marsha Griggs


I never knew my grandfather because he died before I was born. He had angina, but the only treatment in the 1950s was nitroglycerin pills. He eventually died at home of a heart attack at the age of 64. Perhaps it’s my grandfather’s story that led to my interest in becoming a cardiac nurse.

In 1983, I graduated as a registered nurse from Santa Barbara City College. I started working in the intensive care unit at my local Santa Ynez Hospital (now Santa Ynez Valley Cottage Hospital) and became certified as a critical care nurse, caring for mostly cardiac patients.

I then was offered a position in cardiac rehabilitation. What a dream come true. I had found my niche and loved everything about the job. In outpatient cardiac rehab I think of myself as a cheerleader, coach, counselor, and even a DJ when I’m playing music to make the exercises more fun.

When I was 40 years old, I was an active mother with two children in school. I played softball, rode my bike to work and exercised at the gym. But I felt that something just wasn’t quite right. I noticed that I would get dizzy during aerobics class and would need to go to the back of the room to rest.

One night, my heart went into palpitations when I was watching TV. Luckily, I listened to my body and went to see my doctor right away. After an echocardiogram and a CT scan, they found that my aortic valve was leaking. I had an aortic aneurysm.

Turns out I was born with a heart murmur that worsened over the years. Within a month, I was in the hospital for open heart surgery to get a tissue valve and aortic replacement. 

I’m blessed that my surgery went well with no major complications. After 12 weeks (and after I completed my cardiac rehab), I went back to work. I’ve just celebrated 21 years as a heart disease survivor. I’m still working in cardiac rehab at Santa Ynez Valley Cottage Hospital, where I’ve been privileged to help hundreds of patients in their recovery.

On the personal side, I’ve been able to watch my children grow up and have kids of their own. I’m a grandmother. Life is beautiful!

My experience taught me the importance of listening to your body. Always report health changes early to your physician. In an emergency, seek immediate medical attention by calling 911. Let the experts in the hospital emergency department evaluate you and provide treatment if needed. All too often, many people stay home for hours, and even days, before seeking medical attention – and they end up suffering consequences from the delay.

Lastly, if you’re not trained in CPR, please consider getting certified this year so you’ll be prepared if someone needs your help. You could save a life!


Marsha Griggs is a Cardiopulmonary Rehabilitation Coordinator at Santa Ynez Valley Cottage Hospital.