In August of 2004 at the healthy age of 24, I almost lost my life to a serious heart related illness called bacterial endocarditis, a fatal condition if left undiagnosed. This condition is a bacterial infection that gets into the lining of your heart. It is supposed to be 95% fatal, so the fact that I survived is a miracle and I thank GOD for that. At that time, I was working full time as a registered nurse and going to Florida State University to further my nursing education.
My symptoms progressed to a fever and flu like symptoms over the course of a few weeks. So, I finally decided to visit my doctor. At first, I was treated for the flu and routine infections. But, I just kept getting sicker. Over the course of three months, I just got sicker and sicker. No one could figure out why. I was on every antibiotic you could think of. FINALLY, I ended up at the Mayo Clinic in Jacksonville, Fl. I saw a team of doctors there and finally got the SCARY news. I had a potentially life threatening infection in my HEART!
I remember the doctors telling us they could treat the infection and hopefully I would get better or not treat it and I would certainly die... I knew I had a heart murmur and mitral valve prolapse, but I had never had any heart problems and was a healthy 24 year old. I do have a family history of heart disease, but nothing like this. Who would have thought I would have a life threatening heart illness! The next few weeks are a blur as I was very, very ill. I spent a few weeks in St. Lukes hospital in Jacksonville, Florida and I was told it was a miracle I am alive. You see, Bacterial Endocarditis is typically fatal if it goes undiagnosed. I went nearly three months without a diagnosis. After I was discharged, I came home with a PICC line and underwent 6 more weeks of antibiotic therapy at home.
Since then, I have had a new lease on life. I have learned not to take myself so seriously and life is too short to take anything for granted. I have made changes in the way I cook and the way I deal with stress. I try to get some form of cardiovascular exercise at least four times a week for an hour or more. I feel that God gave me a second chance at life to share my experience and hopefully inspire others to live a heart healthy lifestyle. I am now a Family Nurse Practitioner and I often share my story with my patients to show them heart illnesses can happen to anyone. After all, a heart related illness can strike any one of us, at any age, at any time, and without any warning. I am just blessed to have survived mine!
I would encourage anyone reading this to take their heart health seriously whether they have a documented heart issue or not. Cook heart healthy and exercise. Trust me, it's easier than you might think. Most importantly, spend time with your loved ones and destress! Life is not a dress rehearsal. The best way I know how to sum up heart health is like this: our genetics (family history) loads the gun and our lifestyle choices pull the trigger! Make smart, heart healthy choices.
I now am a family nurse practioner in Alabama, and live across the border in Florida. I have been a volunteer with the American Heart Association for over 13 years.
I have recently created a social media group called #HeartsMatter as a way to increase awareness of heart disease and a place for survivors to share stories and pictures. Come join us!