Supermodel Camerone Parker McCullouch on Having a ‘Widow Maker’ Heart Attack, MS, and Living Life to the Fullest
It was Oct. 2, 2019, and Camerone Parker McCulloch—international supermodel, philanthropist, and a woman changing the face of Multiple Sclerosis (MS)—was getting a haircut.
“I wasn’t doing anything strenuous. I wasn’t running a marathon. The only running I’ll do is for a sale at Bergdorf Goodman!” she says, laughing, her warm personality shining through and her infectious laugh drawing you in.
“I sat down in the chair, I looked up at my hairdresser, and I said, ‘I don’t feel very well.’ I had a cold sweat and was drenched from head-to-toe,” she remembers.
Her hairdresser got her home, and while walking into her house, she collapsed.
Camerone was rushed to Banner-University Medical Center, where the emergency room team determined that she’d had a “Widow Maker” heart attack—a term coined when the main artery down the front of the heart (LAD) is totally blocked or has a critical blockage at the beginning of the vessel. As the term suggests, most people don’t survive this type of heart attack.
Camerone’s friends and family dropped everything to be at her side. Thankfully, Camerone pulled through.
“I firmly believe that God has a purpose for me,” says the just-turned 54-year-old. “Obviously my work here wasn’t done. [I’m] trying to make every hour count and do good.”
A Famous Face
If Camerone looks familiar, that’s probably because you’ve seen her face gracing the pages of magazines, advertisements, billboards, on television and more. She was discovered at age 23 by John Casablancas, the founder of Elite Model Management, while she was shopping with her mother in Los Angeles. She had been planning to be a translator—and had studied several languages—until this opportunity presented itself. Instead, she used her knowledge of languages to negotiate contracts around the world and as she traveled and worked in other countries.
Over the years, she’s appeared in over 400 magazines and her career have included highlights such as being the face of Oil of Olay, a Ralph Laruen Polo ad billboard in Times Square in New York City, walking in every major Fashion Week around the world, being chosen as a muse for three designers on Project Runway, receiving a call to be on The Oprah Winfrey Show, and so much more.
The Hidden Secret
But even as Camerone was putting on a smile for the camera and runway, she was hiding a secret. Twenty years ago, she was diagnosed with MS. In 2009, she went public with her diagnosis, becoming a celebrity voice in patient advocacy for MS and treatment.
She travels the country—and this year will head to Canada, as well—speaking at various MS fundraisers, including as the keynote speaker at Women on the Move/Women Against MS national events. Dedicated to changing the “Face of MS,” she never charges a speaker’s fee at any MS fundraiser, she pays for her own travel expenses (this has saved the National MS Society over $25,000 so far!), buys and fills tables at the events she speaks at, as well as donates money to the events—more than $60,000 to date.
“I do not and will not every profit from my disease,” she says.
Her message about MS will now include additional information—that researchers have found that patients with MS have increased heart problems, suggestive of an intrinsic myocardial disease, and would benefit from cardiovascular examinations using more advanced techniques. She will advocate that patients should ask their doctors for a good Echo Cardiogram.
The day we spoke for this interview, Camerone learned that she was being awarded the Woman of Courage 2020 award by the National MS Society. The award will be presented at a luncheon on April 29.
Camerone is honored, although she says she really just advocates because she wants to raise awareness and is passionate about the cause.
“We don’t have a cure for MS, and my life depends on a cure,” she says.
She has days where she feels well and days where she doesn’t, and she’s still dealing with cardiac issues and the effects of the heart attack, but as always, wants to make a difference through it all.
“2020 is going to be amazing, kicking off with this award. I don’t care what you’re going through, you can still make a difference, no matter how crummy you feel,” she says. “I just want to be a good servant, in really great shoes.”