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Susan Lucci, Husband 'Face' Condition Very Close to Their Hearts

In real life, Susan Lucci is nothing like Erica Kane, her daytime alter ego on "All My Children."

Although the provocative Kane has been married at least 10 times, Lucci, 64, has been married to the same man – Helmut Huber – for 40 years and they have two grown kids and two grandchildren together.

It’s her dedication to Huber that led Lucci to her role as an ambassador for the Facing AFib™ program.

Eleven years ago, Huber went to the doctor for a routine pre-op physical – only he never made it into surgery.

"He had no symptoms of anything being wrong, but he came out with a diagnosis of AFib, a type of irregular heartbeat," Lucci said. "He called me at work and we were both really shocked. My husband has always been really active and athletic."

AFib is short for atrial fibrillation, a potentially serious condition where the heart beats irregularly and can lead to the formation of blood clots. These clots can travel from the heart to the brain, where they can possibly lead to a stroke, according to the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute.

An estimated 2.3 million Americans have the disorder, and the incidence is expected to rise to 3.3 million over the next decade.

Symptoms – although they don’t always exist in patients – can include fluttering in the chest, dizziness, fatigue, heart palpitations, a racing heartbeat, chest pain, shortness of breath and sweating.

Doctors can diagnosis AFib by conducting an electrocardiogram on patients. 

People living with AFib are five times more likely to suffer a stroke, and the condition is associated with an estimated 15 percent of strokes in the United States. Strokes caused by AFib are two times as likely to be fatal or two times as likely to be severely debilitating as non-AFib-related strokes.

That’s why it’s so important to prevent AFib strokes and why Lucci wants to bring awareness to the medical condition.

"We feel so lucky that he did get the diagnosis," Lucci said. "His health has been wonderful since then because we got the right information and we went to the right doctor. He’s still skiing and playing golf and traveling all over the place with me."

As the celebrity ambassadors behind Facing AFib™, Lucci and Huber have set out to educate the American public about the disorder and encourage those with it to take certain steps to reduce their risk of stroke.

Facing AFib™ is a multi-year program that improves communication between the patient and doctor, offers an interactive online risk assessment tool and a personalized doctor discussion guide.

Treatment options for AFib include medication to restore your heart rhythm, a pacemaker to control the heart rate or cardioversion and ablation. A patient who is diagnosed with AFib is often put on an anticoagulant to reduce his or her risk of developing a stroke.

Cardioversion is when the heart rate is converted to a normal rhythm using electricity. Ablation is a procedure in which the tissue surrounding the short circuit is destroyed.

Huber opted for medication, diet modification and exercise.

"He’s used to an Austrian diet – butter, jam, hot dogs, sausage and cheese – now he’s on a Mediterranean diet – and he’s learned to love it, it’s a different way of eating, but a healthier way of eating," Lucci said.

Huber agreed he has never felt better, and since he has changed his diet, he has "even lost 10 pounds."

"As long as anyone with this condition goes to the doctor and follows the program, they should be fine," he said. "I feel fantastic. I still exercise, golf and ski. But it was a real shock to me. I never knew anyone who had that . . .(the doctor) really had to explain it to me. I learned a number of people have this condition."

Lucci said she tries to accompany Huber to his doctor’s appointments whenever possible.

"I think that’s a good idea; two heads are better than one," she said. "Sometimes the person diagnosed might not hear everything because they are dealing with the diagnosis."

As for Lucci – how does she keep her body so slender and youthful-looking?

"We all get a certain gene pool; I got lucky," she said, a sincere smile lighting up her face. "And it's up to us to take care of ourselves. I really do use Youthful Essence (her skin care line) and I always do Malibu Pilates. Whenever I do any kind of exercise, it’s all based around Pilates.”