The doctor's news was scary: Laura Bell Bundy's heart was pressing on her lungs. Her lungs were going to fail. She needed to have surgery immediately.
Bundy was 18, in New York City for the first time as an adult, with a burgeoning career as an actress and singer on stage and screen.
"Thank God my mom was with me," Bundy says. "She was totally panicked, and she got into our car and drove 12 hours back to Kentucky to see Dr. (Jackie) Noonan, who said, 'Oh my God, what's going on?' I was totally fine. There was nothing wrong. They tested my heart, tested my lungs. I was totally fine.
"Well, not totally fine. I still had the defect."
Never miss a local story.
Bundy was born with a ventricular septal defect, essentially a hole in her heart. The condition has been a constant source of caution and concern for the now-33-year-old performer. And some of its manifestations, including a particularly loud heartbeat, have scared medical professionals, including that New York doctor, who are unfamiliar with her condition.
But it has hardly slowed down the Lexington native.
The Tony Award-nominated actress has appeared in several Broadway shows, including creating the lead role of Elle Woods in Legally Blonde — The Musical, and has a long list of film, stage and recording credits. She currently stars in two TV series, FX's Anger Management and The CW's Hart of Dixie, and she maintains a country music career.
In the past year, she has concluded that it's time to pay closer attention to her heart.
Under the guidance of doctors at the Kentucky Children's Hospital and the University of Kentucky's Gill Heart Institute, she has maintained her condition without open-heart surgery, hoping that technology will provide a less-invasive solution.
"I was told by UK that I was looking at needing to get surgery in two to three years," Bundy says. "That was a year ago. So now it's one to two years, and it might not necessarily be a less-invasive solution.
"So I was like, 'Oh, I really need help,'" Bundy says.
Coincidentally, she was contacted by representatives of the American Heart Association in Lexington, who were simply inquiring about getting auction items from some of her shows for an event. "They didn't know I had a heart condition," Bundy says. "They kind of connected me to the national organization."
That has made Bundy part of the Go Red for Women campaign, which culminates Friday in National Wear Red Day. She is one of 10 women sharing their stories in a national campaign to raise awareness of heart disease and stroke, problems most commonly associated with men.
"I have relied on the American Heart Association for best doctors, best surgeons, and it has really made me invested in the cause and how it affects women," Bundy says. "Last year, it was the No. 1 killer among women ... and women just kind of ignore it and think they're getting stressed out or having a hot flash, and it's really a heart attack. So educating women is really important to me.
"I have met a lot of women and learned a lot about things like undiagnosed congenital heart disease affecting women in their 40s."
Bundy's condition was, of course, diagnosed. She says Noonan, now retired, has told her that her lifestyle, which included a high school track career and a daily exercise regimen — not to mention aerobic dance routines — have been important to helping her avoid more serious problems.
But now, Bundy says, it's time to pay attention to her situation, and she is happy to have a forum to encourage others to pay attention, too.