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Explaining My Heart Journey to Medical Students

Last August I was lucky enough to get a call from the University of Maryland Medical School. The emergency room physician was also a professor at the University of Maryland Hospital Center. She came to someone from my transplant team and asked if there was a patient who could come to her class and talk about their patient experience. My name automatically came to mind.

At the time, I was seeing a therapist to help me with my social anxiety. It has always been my dream to advocate and speak to people about my heart journey, so this was the perfect opportunity.

The only problem was that I was afraid to speak to people because of my 2nd stroke. I suffered a 2nd stroke in 2018 and I temporarily lost my ability to speak because the stroke happened on the left side of my brain, which affected my speech. In addition to my speech being slurred, I had problems walking, eating, and swallowing. I could no longer be independent and do things for myself anymore, so I lost all confidence in myself.

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Preparing to share my heart failure journey

When I got the call from UMMS, I saw it as my opportunity and when she asked me if would I speak, the answer was yes. The reason behind this is that my therapist told me that in order to get over my fear of speaking I had to face it head-on. I would be speaking to 150 medical school students sometime in August, the date had already been set, so there was no turning back now.

I prepared by creating a PowerPoint presentation about every point in my heart journey. I even still have some of my LVAD things like the batteries, the charging station, and the bag that the LVAD goes into. So, I thought I could do something like show and tell.

I had never spoken about my heart journey except on podcasts where someone asked me questions. This was different in that I would be telling my story and they would ask questions afterward.

I started to start typing my story word for word because I knew that the nerves would get to me and I did not want to be ill-prepared. Many of you may be wondering why I did not just write notecards, and that is because my writing never recovered fully after the stroke.

The big day: Facing my fear of public speaking

The morning of my speech I was so nervous and I felt sick to my stomach. There was traffic and the highway near my house had been shut down because of an accident so I had to take an alternate route. By the time I got to Baltimore, I was late. I met the professor and we went to the auditorium where they were having class that day.

I was not nervous...I was petrified. The professor introduced me and then gave me the floor. My hands were shaking as I introduced myself, “My name is Olivia and I am a two-time stroke survivor, former LVAD patient, and heart transplant recipient.” My hands were shaking so much to the point that I had to tell myself to calm down and just breathe. The more I read, the more relaxed I became.

When the story was finished the students began to ask me questions. Some of the questions were about how my mental state was when I had to get the LVAD, who my support system was during my journey, and what my thoughts were when I got diagnosed with dilated cardiomyopathy.

I was so grateful because the students did so much for me in listening to my journey. They actually helped me conquer my fear of speaking.

Now I know and believe that I can speak to a large audience without the fears that I previously had. The response was so great that they asked me to speak again this year, but now I know what to expect.

Face those fears!

Facing fears with heart failure

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This article represents the opinions, thoughts, and experiences of the author; none of this content has been paid for by any advertiser. The team does not recommend or endorse any products or treatments discussed herein. Learn more about how we maintain editorial integrity here.

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