La La Anthony on Her Heart Condition, Co-Parenting With Carmelo, and Finally Putting Herself First (2024)

La La Anthony is the best friend many of us wish we had. If you don’t believe me, take a look at Instagram on her birthday, June 25, which the women in her circle treat as if it’s a national holiday. Vanessa Bryant, Ciara, Kim Kardashian, and Kelly Rowland, among others, post photos of Anthony, née Vázquez, with them offering loving tributes about how much she pours into their friendships. The constellation of the stars surrounding her call her not just a friend, but often one of their best, and she wears that label with pride. “I’ll hear people say, ‘She’s so-and-so’s best friend too,’” she tells me over Zoom in August. “To have that amount of trust from people is a beautiful thing…. Being a great friend is being honest, being able to hold secrets.”

When we meet over Zoom, Anthony is warm in a familiar New York way. She’s kind, but she’s also a straight shooter. Early on, she apologizes for not being glammed up with a quick, “Gotta get a bunch of stuff going today. Today’s just one of those days,” then continues to eat her lunch, with the sound of Brooklyn behind her.

Today’s not just one of those days, though. Today, Anthony has a story to tell—one she’s been waiting for months to discuss publicly.

On June 1, 2021, Anthony was rushed to the hospital for an emergency procedure to fix the abnormal heartbeat that had been plaguing her for two years. The day after her usual Memorial Day family barbecue, she began feeling so lightheaded she had to hold on to the refrigerator in her kitchen to maintain her balance. “I never felt anything like that before,” she says. Her heart was racing, she was sweating, and her cousins told her she looked pale. Soon they were persuading her to let them call an ambulance to transport her to the hospital.

She was reluctant, and her 14-year-old son pleaded with her. “Kiyan was like, ‘Mom, please let them call because you don’t look like yourself.’” But Anthony was concerned about an ambulance coming to her home. She’d just moved to this neighborhood; she didn’t want the extra scrutiny. But it was around 9 p.m., and she felt safer at least having them come under the cover of night.

Even after the EMTs arrived, Anthony tried to convince them that she was fine—or at least she would be. Then one of them gave her advice she couldn’t ignore. “I’ll never forget one of the EMTs said to me,” she recalls. “‘If you were my sister, I would say you have to go right now.’” So she did.

Once Anthony arrived at the hospital, doctors told her she needed to have the heart procedure she’d been putting off for years. Now. There was no more waiting. Her entire world had to stop to accommodate a procedure that could ultimately save her heart and her life.

Anthony would spend two hours having the procedure and four days in the hospital. “There were a lot of scary moments,” she says. Most notably, part of the procedure to fix Anthony’s abnormal heartbeat happened, by medical necessity, while she was awake. “They would wake me up during the procedure and say, ‘We’re going to speed your heart up now…. Just take deep breaths.’” Reflecting on it now, “Those doctors were just so incredible,” Anthony says. “But it was a terrifying experience.”

Travis Matthews. Wardrobe styling by Maeve Reilly. Makeup by Sheika Daley. Hair by Myss Monique. On La La: Blazer: Angel Chen. Top: Khaite. Shorts: Jacquemus. Earrings and Necklace: Jennifer Fisher.

Anthony has been working steadily since she first landed an internship as a radio DJ when she was just 16. Then came the career-defining stint as a VJ on MTV’s Total Request Live during its heyday in the early aughts, followed by a string of MTV specials and VH1 reality shows, both as host (see the reunions for the spectacle-generating Flavor of Love series and its offshoots) and as subject (her televised wedding to NBA star Carmelo Anthony and subsequent series about her married life).

Anthony was an MTV VJ back when the network permeated our culture in many ways, but she says she knew even back then that she wanted something more, even though it looked to others as though she’d reached the heights of her career. “MTV, people would always say, is like a gift and a curse,” she says. “They would always say, ‘Well, what happens to all the VJs afterward?’ [We would be told] being on MTV is the peak. And I was like, ‘Why is that?’ So I always wanted to reinvent myself.”

So Anthony did, taking acting classes and auditioning until she landed a string of small roles in films and TV and then larger, recurring roles.

She had multiple projects in various stages of production, including costarring on Starz’s Power and Showtime’s The Chi, when she first realized something was wrong with her heart. For the woman who is grateful to be “La La from MTV” but also wants to be a great actor, a great producer, slowing down didn’t feel like an option.

But in 2019, during an exam while she was shooting BH90210 in Vancouver, Anthony’s doctor became concerned as he listened to her heartbeat. As Anthony recalls, the doctor asked her, “Has anyone talked to you about your heart, your PVCs?”

PVCs, more formally known as premature ventricular contractions, are extra heartbeats that disrupt your heart’s normal rhythm. As the University of Michigan’s Frankel Cardiovascular Center describes it, PVCs are when the heart’s lower pumping chambers—or ventricles—beat too early. Although that may sound worrisome, it’s not unusual for many people with perfectly healthy hearts to have occasional PVCs. These early heartbeats often don’t cause any serious health issues and typically recede on their own. In some people, however, PVCs are due to an underlying condition, such as heart disease or structural problems in the heart, that requires treatment. Having frequent PVCs can disrupt the heart’s normal rhythm in a way that can be dangerous, potentially leading to problems like chronic heart rhythm issues or even cardiomyopathy (a weakened heart muscle).

If you’ve ever sensed your heart flutter or skip a beat, you have a good idea of what a PVC can feel like. While PVCs sometimes don’t cause any symptoms at all, in addition to fluttering or skipping, they can feel like a pounding, jumping, or strangely noticeable heartbeat. Anthony was familiar with these symptoms by the time the Vancouver doctor raised the subject of PVCs. She’d been experiencing them for years.

“I felt my heart racing all the time, but because it’s all I ever really knew, I didn’t even know that it was necessarily something wrong,” she explains. “I just thought, Oh, you just feel your heart racing sometimes because you’re working too much, you haven’t slept, you’re stressed. You know, we, especially Black people, like to self-diagnose. We got all the answers.”

The doctor examining Anthony wanted to send her to an emergency room in Vancouver for further testing, she says, but she opted to wait on getting further medical attention until she returned to New York after filming. Her doctors were there. Her family was there. She wanted to be back on familiar terrain. Still, the doctor urged her to get her heart checked further as soon as possible.

In the intervening time, Anthony’s symptoms became more persistent. “You know how the mind works,” she says. “I started feeling it even more—like this fluttering and this racing all the time. I was like, ‘What is going on?’”

When she returned to New York, she saw a doctor who conducted an electrocardiogram, better known as an EKG or ECG. An EKG measures the heart’s electrical activity by assessing how long it takes for an electrical impulse to travel through the heart on each beat. This makes it possible to detect a heartbeat that is irregular in some way or a heart muscle that otherwise isn’t functioning properly. Anthony’s EKG results were alarming: She was having about 25% more heartbeats over the course of the day than the average person. “They were very, very concerned,” she says. “Within a 24-hour period, they said, my heart was beating 30,000 extra beats more than the average person. It was going fast constantly.… Your heart is a muscle. If a muscle is working so hard all the time, eventually the muscle will get weak and cause heart attack, stroke, death, whatever it is.”

Anthony’s doctors prescribed a medication that would attempt to restore a normal heart rhythm. Though she knew the risks of not taking it, the medication made her feel as if her body was no longer her own. “It really makes you so tired and out of it,” she explains. “I’m on set. I’m reading scripts. I’m filming. There’s no way I could just be that tired. I was literally head-bobbing mid-conversation.”

So she decided to stop taking the medication. This type of decision, of course, isn’t medically advised. It isn’t the “right” move. But it is a realistic one.

Instead, Anthony decided to attempt to manage her stress—sleeping when she needed to, taking deep breaths when her heart was racing—because the alternative absolutely terrified her. If her PVCs continued, Anthony, who counts needles among her top three fears, along with mice and rats, would need to have a cardiac ablation.

The procedure, which uses radiofrequency heat or extreme cold to destroy the part of the heart causing an abnormal heartbeat, most often requires inserting a catheter (or multiple catheters) into the heart, usually via the groin. Cardiac ablations are successful between 80% and 100% of the time, though PVCs can reoccur afterward for some people.

The procedure usually takes between two and four hours. But for someone terrified of needles, that can feel like a lifetime. “Had it not happened [as an emergency],” Anthony says, “I probably would have still just been continuing to put it off, put it off, put it off.”

Travis Matthews. Wardrobe styling by Maeve Reilly. Makeup by Sheika Daley. Hair by Myss Monique. On La La: Top: Nanushka. Earrings: Jennifer Fisher. Necklaces: Nickho Rey (top), Ettika (bottom).

When you’re diagnosed with any kind of heart condition, doom and gloom become internal soundtracks in your mind. I speak from experience here. When I was diagnosed with cardiomyopathy, a disease of the heart muscle that can lead to heart failure, in 2019, I presumed that my body was so worn down because I’d been overworking. Twelve- to 14-hour days, every day, do take their toll over time.

I was a young Black woman editor in chief writing two books at the same time and worrying far more about my work than about my well-being. I needed to outwork my peers in order to be successful, or so I told myself. Who wouldn’t be tired in that scenario? I ignored my symptoms—swollen ankles, shortness of breath, immeasurable exhaustion—until I had so much fluid around my heart and in my lungs that I couldn’t inhale a full breath. It was then, and only then, that I knew I needed medical care, and even then, I didn’t understand the magnitude of what my body was experiencing until my cardiologist told me I had heart failure for the very first time. It’s easier to dismiss our body’s aches and pains when we can attribute it to our work schedules; it’s much harder to think about all the things our bodies can endure without our permission.

As with many health conditions, some research suggests the premature ventricular contractions Anthony experienced may disproportionately impact Black people for reasons researchers are still teasing apart. Other risk factors for PVCs that are also quite common in Black people, like anxiety and heart disease, may have something to do with it.

Even in the middle of a health crisis, Anthony, a proud Afro-Latina, felt the need to be strong, a pressure that Black women of all ages are familiar with. Black women are forged in the fires of a culture that tells us to swallow our pain, even if it’s killing us. We’re largely not encouraged to prioritize our health or seriously consider what our aches and pangs could be signaling to us about an issue in our bodies. Even if we do seek help, there’s a pervasive cultural belief that Black women don’t need the same level of care that other women do. We can push ourselves past the point of reason and still succeed. We’re taught to carry on with our lives, no matter what it’s costing us. “We’re just not naturally people that go to doctors,” Anthony explains about her hesitance to have the procedure. “We can self-diagnose. We’re gonna make some tea. We’re gonna heat up some Vicks.”

So, naturally, being in the eye of the storm felt strange for Anthony. It moved her from being the nurturer to being the one having to be taken care of. “I’m not a person who likes everyone worried about me or doting over me,” she says. “I have a lot of friends and a lot of family, and they’d be calling all day.”

She put her cousin, Dice Dixon, in charge of sharing information with her family in advance of her ablation, and she personally called her closest friends to let them know.

“I was like, I have to tell certain people because if they find out, and I didn’t tell them, they gonna flip on me—like Ciara or Kelly or Kim. So I’m like, ‘Hey, guys, um, listen, I don’t want anybody to freak out. But I’m in the hospital.’ And they’re like, ‘What? In the hospital? What? We about to get on a flight.’”

Among many other lessons, Anthony says the experience has taught her “it’s okay to let people love on you and be concerned about you.” Even—or especially—when you’re normally the one doing that for everybody else.

Thankfully, in Anthony’s case, the ablation did its job. Though she had soreness in her chest for two weeks and was told not to overexert herself, she’s since had normal EKGs, something that still surprises her after two years of watching them spike off the charts.

“Right after I had the ablation, they put me on the EKG, and I’m looking at the monitor,” she remembers. “And it’s just steady and regular. I don’t see a spike anywhere. It’s so crazy. Just that quick. Everything kind of evened itself out and leveled out.” She continues, marveling: “To see that was like, ‘Wow, that’s all I had to do to get this sh*t in order? It’s regular now.’”

Anthony is examined at least once every two months to check her heartbeat and ensure that it’s still normal. Like many of us, she struggles to balance her health and well-being with her responsibilities at work and as a parent. Because she’s a self-described workaholic, she was even worried about missing scheduled filming days for the ablation. “I was like, ‘Oh, my God, I’m not going to be able to film. They’re going to be mad at me. How am I going to tell them this?’ My manager was like, ‘You’re having a heart procedure. What’s wrong with you?’”

Did Anthony have a new perspective after her health scare? Yes. Is it difficult to buck a system that drives us into the ground and convinces us that we’re only successful when we’re worn down and exhausted beyond repair? Also yes. But she’s trying.

“This made me reprioritize myself because it’s always about everyone else and work and this and that,” Anthony says. “And it’s like, if I’m not good, I’m not gonna be good for anyone.”

That realization is part of why she has decided to share this story publicly in the first place.

“I battled with that for a while,” she says. “Most people Instagram themselves in a hospital bed or show the IV or whatever. And I never did any of that. But the more I thought about it and actually talked to my son, he was just like, ‘Mom, like, it can actually help people out there to become aware of listening to their bodies,’” she continues. “I can turn it into something that can actually help people out there and also make people understand, I’m human. I go through sh*t…it’s life.”

Travis Matthews. Wardrobe styling by Maeve Reilly. Makeup by Sheika Daley. Hair by Myss Monique. On La La: Dress: Alexander Wang. Earrings: Nickho Rey. Rings: La La’s own.

Less than one month after her procedure, Anthony filed for divorce from Carmelo, whom she’d been married to for more than 11 years. After TMZ broke the story that Anthony had filed due to “irreconcilable differences,” tabloids descended on her at the exact moment she was attempting to heal in more ways than one. Though that level of scrutiny may have broken someone else—for what it’s worth, she says she and her soon-to-be ex-husband “had a good-ass run and it’s over now”—it only reinforced her commitment to leaning on her close friends and family and taking care of herself mind, body, and soul. “The people who know what’s going on or know the truth—my family, my friends—that’s who really matters to me. There was still such an outpouring of love and support, which meant so much to me. I appreciate that. I go through things. I file for divorce. Things happen. It’s life, and it’s not easy.”

Amid the public chaos swirling around her marriage ending and the private battle with her heart condition, Anthony, like many of us, has had to turn inward to figure out what makes her happiest and how to embody joy in all she does. When I ask her how she handled public speculation about her personal life at an especially sensitive time, she responds, “When you make a choice to put yourself first and a choice to be happy and really mean that, then a lot of that stuff doesn’t even really faze you or matter anymore.”

Of course, some situations will still rattle people working on being their most unfazed selves, especially when it comes to parenting. For Anthony, one of those situations happened when Kiyan contracted COVID-19. “When your child has it and is pretty sick, it’s scary,” she says. “He’s quarantining, but I’m his mom. I’m going in there to make sure he’s okay no matter what, but you know, the fevers, the chills, the vomiting, all that stuff—that kind of scared me and really put things in perspective about the seriousness of it.”

When we speak, Anthony had just come back from vacationing in Mexico with Ciara and Vanessa Bryant. She says she hadn’t worried once about work while away and is no longer as hesitant to do things for herself, including going on a spiritual retreat a few days after our conversation to get recentered.

“I’m still trying to find that balance of a mom, you know, an actor, producer, time for myself, you know, this new chapter I’m entering in my life in general,” she says. “So it’s finding that balance, but also encouraging people, especially women, to not feel guilty about it. Because at the end of the day, you just get so burnt out that you’re not good for anyone. You’re yelling at your kids, you’re arguing with your man or your woman, you’re just not good for anybody.”

Part of finding that balance means focusing on the co-parenting relationship she’s built with Carmelo. “I can’t say how many times what an amazing partner I have in that sense,” she says. As she explains, they’ve both prioritized Kiyan’s needs over their own relationship issues. “Boys and girls need their dads, but boys need their dads. It’s important,” she says, before offering this advice to others who are coparenting: “I would just remind people that sometimes we get caught up in emotions and feelings and make it about us. Just always remember, it’s about your child who didn’t ask to be here, didn’t ask to be in this situation.”

Work is also still bringing Anthony joy, though she’s now more cognizant of what’s happening with her body and mind as she forges ahead. She’s currently producing a movie with Issa Rae, costarring in a forthcoming movie on Netflix, and working on various projects with 50 Cent, including bringing the Cyntoia Brown story to screen with Brown’s permission and participation. Every project she works on speaks to her and allows her to work with people she admires and feel respected while doing so—a far cry from being told in auditions that she didn’t look “Latina enough” to be cast in specific roles, a slight she’s also aiming to change. “We still have a long way to go because a lot of times when it comes to the Hispanic roles, there’s always a certain look,” she says. “They say, ‘You don’t look Spanish.’ What does that look like? I’m really trying to break those barriers as well.”

Amid everything happening in her life, Anthony didn’t need to publicly reveal that she’d had an emergency heart procedure, but she sees her work as bigger than what she does in Hollywood. It’s about encouraging everyone, but specifically Black women and Latinx women, to listen to our bodies, to take care of ourselves, and to seek medical treatment, whenever possible, when we need it. “Life is short. We’ve learned that from the pandemic. We learned that from being in quarantine,” she says. “You want to be able to live it to the fullest, and you don’t want something that can easily be corrected to be a reason why you’re not able to enjoy life or be there for your family or your friends. Use me as an example of why not to wait.”

Travis Matthews. Wardrobe styling by Maeve Reilly. Makeup by Sheika Daley. Hair by Myss Monique. On La La: Top and Pant: Chanel. Jacket: Lapointe. Earrings: Jennifer Fisher. Necklaces: Nickho Rey. Shoes: Jimmy Choo.

La La Anthony on Her Heart Condition, Co-Parenting With Carmelo, and Finally Putting Herself First (2024)


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