By Pat Ciarrocchi
PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — “I’m just lucky that I survived it, truthfully.”
Talk show host Rosie O’Donnell was talking about her heart attack. It was a surprise to her that happened after a period of extreme stress.
“For women, with a heart attack or heart disease…stress is a huge component,” Rosie said, “Especially emotional stress.”
Rosie and her wife, Michelle Rounds, were in Philadelphia during the weekend of October 20th, using their celebrity and money to raise awareness not for heart disease, but for a rare, desmoid tumor that Michelle battled in May and June.
“We were in the hospital forty nights, and no one knew what she had,’ Rosie explained. “We were on the West Coast and couldn’t even get home because she was so ill. We tried to get on the plane once and had to get her off the plane, while it was on the runway… it was emotionally draining.”
Michelle had suffered from severe abdominal pain. Doctors ultimately diagnosed it as a desmoid. Michelle searched the internet to learn more and found the Desmoid Tumor Research Foundation, an organization committed to gathering medical specialists who can share their research findings and patients who can share their stories.
“To be part of the cure is something that we’re both interested in,” said Rosie.
For the third year, DRTF staged a weekend patient symposium and 5K run/walk to support medical research in order to better understand these rare tumors. They’re not cancerous, but they can be very aggressive and can strangle other organs they’re near.
In Michelle’s case, twelve inches of her colon had to be removed along with the tumor, but the wait for a diagnosis and treatment became difficult for Rosie to watch. She says the stress was enormous.
“I had those 40 nights in the hospital with her on a cot, and you know, during that time I ate nothing but sugar and [was] not taking care of myself, and I was in emotional distress to see her in so much physical pain,” Rosie said.
Not long after, Rosie had a heart attack. “I waited more than 24 hours to go to the doctor, because I kept thinking, ‘This can’t be a heart attack. A heart attack would feel like Mike Tyson punched you in the chest, right?’ No, it felt like the flu.”
More women die of heart disease than anything else. It acts differently in women than in men. Rosie believes that women need to know the actual causes of heart attacks that are normal for women.
The Desmoid Tumor Research Foundation raised $254,000 dollars this weekend, with a contribution from Rosie and Michelle of $100,000 and their commitment to a cause that’s become personal.