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Laguna Beach

Holly Morrell – fighting her own and others’ heart disease through her Heartfelt Cardiac Projects screening clinics

February is National Heart Month - but this story about Laguna Beach resident and heart screening activist Holly Morrell starts on July 16, 2012, when she lay unconscious on a Burbank hospital operating table for a scheduled procedure that is delicate and dangerous.

Having lived for 10 years with an implanted defibrillator, the wires that had been fish-hooked into her heart required removal due to fractures and manufacturer recalls. Her cardiologist, Dr. Raymond Schaerf, was in the middle of the complicated, dangerous, but necessary procedure when a vein suddenly ruptured in an area very difficult area for him to reach. Holly’s blood pressure plunged. Dr. Schaerf made a split-second decision to open Morrell’s chest cavity and quickly suture the collapsed vein. His unplanned emergency open-heart surgical procedure saved her life. After she recovered, Dr. Schaerf told her that she was 90 seconds from death.

HollyDuring her recovery, she tried acupuncture to cope with the pain and loss of movement. Her acupuncturist, local resident Evonne Kane of Five Seasons Healthcare was inspired by Morrell’s story, and offered to host a screening in recognition of National Heart Month. The screening will be held from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. on Saturday, Feb. 23 at her acupuncture center, Five Seasons Healthcare, located in the Monarch Bay shopping center, 28 Monarch Bay Plaza, Suite A in Dana Point. Anyone age five or older is eligible for the painless, 20-minute screening.  Test results are mailed within 30 days unless a condition is emergent. To learn more or to pre-register for a screening, go to

Morrell, who has battled heart disease for a decade, is from a family with a genetic history of hypertrophic cardiomyopathy. She has lost six family members to the disease, two of them cousins who died suddenly between at the ages of 12 and 14. She is determined to do what she can to prevent other young lives from being cut short because an asymptomatic heart disease went undetected and resulted in Sudden Cardiac Arrest, the number-one killer in the United States, especially among women.  Five years ago she founded the nonprofit Heartfelt Cardiac Projects to provide non-invasive, affordable heart screenings at community events. 

At the clinics, Heartfelt Cardiac Projects offers both cardiac ultrasounds, also known as echocardiograms, and electrocardiograms (EKG/ECGs), the two most reliable screening modalities available, for a donation of $85 per patient. This type of care would normally cost at least $1,500 at a cardiology center, and would not typically be ordered by a physician unless a patient exhibited symptoms. The common culprits, hypertrophic cardiomyopathy, Wolff-Parkinson-White syndrome, and Long QT syndrome, are often missed or misdiagnosed.

February is National Heart Month, and Morrell, having almost fully recovered from her miraculous, harrowing surgery last summer, is back at her 13-year crusade to make screenings available for a relatively low cost as service to the public. 

After a long, painful recovery process, Morrell is again advocating the benefits of early detection and conducting screenings. In 2012 alone, her organization’s work protected the lives of two teens and two adults in Orange County.

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