I was born with a hole in my heart but no one knew what the future had in store. By all normal standards I appeared to be a healthy baby girl, and then one day, just like any other, my mom was bathing me and I stopped breathing. That moment would change the course of our lives forever.
At age two I underwent an operation to completely replace one of my heart valves and repair the hole in my heart. I was lucky. As a result, my battle with Heart Disease, had just begun.
My early Childhood was characterized by heart monitors, tubes prodding my body, IV’s piercing my skin, and breathing machines to assist my weak heart in producing enough oxygen. Eventually I would recover but as I grew my body’s ability to develop properly was hindered by my condition. My immune system was compromised. My bones failed to strengthen properly, causing me to suffer multiple fractures and joint dislocations between the ages of 2 to 10 years old.
However, despite the challenges I faced as a young child, I would eventually heal and become a five-sport athlete in high school. Although my surgery was behind me, I was reminded that my battle with this Non-Communicable Disease was not completely over. At 17 I suffered all the signs of a Mini Stroke (or TIA). As I looked towards an exciting future ahead of me I became aware that my condition would be part of my life forever.
Here is where I always would say, “ But look at what amazing things have happened since.” And that is all true. I would share hope and all the things I’ve gone on to do as an adult. I thought, in terms of my personal story that was the end. However, I was unfortunately wrong. Last year, in July 2019, I was hospitalized for a stroke. Thankfully, my volunteering and work with the American Heart Association had prepared me to know the signs and act quickly. I was administered a TPA, and soon after my symptoms started to fade. I was transferred to the hospital and stayed there for a few nights. I spent the rest of the year getting back to a normal level of energy, fighting brain fog, cognitive connective issues, picking up my leg normally while walking, waiting for the numbing in my face to go away, and coping. As well as, doing test after test, after test, after test, trying to find answers. The day after Christmas I went in to get a Loop Recorder inserted into my chest to watch my heart rhythm.
I sit here today grateful for the advances in health and the technology that was available to me here in the United States, and I am alive today to speak to you about my life’s Odyssey. The scars on my chest are a constant reminder of how valuable and fragile life can be for all of us. I thank the NYC American Heart Association community who helped lift me up and offered so much support during a hard part of my journey, for letting me share my story and for the AHA NYC Young Professionals group who reached out to offer well wishes, community, shoulders to lean on, lasting friendships and their support. I would also like to thank all the medical personnel who have been tremendously helpful along this journey, and going above and beyond. I truly don’t know where I would be without them! Last, but CERTAINLY not least I have to credit my family, boyfriend and close friends. Thank you for supporting me through it all, lending your ears, your shoulders to lean on, your encouragement and patience, you were my light in the dark!