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How I Survived Heart Failure

My name is Olivia, and I am a 2-time stroke survivor, former LVAD patient, and heart transplant recipient. I was diagnosed with cardiomyopathy in 2014 after suffering a stroke.

I had been an athlete since I was a young child. In high school, I was diagnosed with exercise-induced asthma. After high school, I was recruited to run in the NCAA on a track and field scholarship.

The start of my heart failure journey

I graduated from college in 2011 with a bachelor's degree in criminal justice and got my personal training certification right after that. About a year later, I started doing natural bodybuilding shows. In 2014, I was competing in a show in Pittsburgh when I suffered a stroke. A stroke happens when the brain does not receive enough oxygen because of a clot in the brain.

The paramedics rushed me to the hospital, where I was given a treatment called Tissue Plasminogen Activator or TPA. It is a medication given to patients experiencing a stroke, but it must be given within a certain amount of time for it to be useful. It is a medication given through an arm IV that breaks up the clot.

I was diagnosed with dilated cardiomyopathy

After the stroke, I was diagnosed with dilated cardiomyopathy, which is a heart muscle disease that starts with the left ventricle not being able to pump efficiently to the rest of the body. It causes the heart to get enlarged and later could lead to heart failure. This is also when I became aware of the ejection fraction. The ejection fraction is the measurement of how the heart contracts. My ejection fraction was 10-15% when I was diagnosed.

Another stroke, another diagnosis

Four years later, I suffered another stroke, which was severe and left me in bad shape. I could not talk, swallow, walk, or use my right side because I suffered paralysis. I had to go into inpatient rehab to get me back to where I was before the stroke. In addition to having a stroke, I was also diagnosed with advanced heart failure and sent to the cardiac ICU. The doctors were all talking to me about getting an LVAD. LVAD stands for left ventricular assist device. It is a mechanical device that helps pump the heart.

Focusing on my mental and physical health

I got the LVAD on January 8, 2019, and it was the greatest pain I had ever experienced. It was really hard getting back to my regular life, and my mental and physical health became the most important things. I was not put on the heart transplant list until December 2019 because the doctors wanted me to be fully recovered and up to my maximum strength.

Finally, some good news!

I got the call for a new heart on February 1, 2020. It was easily the best day of my life. I was shocked and in disbelief because I was only on the list for a month and a half. This journey has been nothing short of amazing and full of ups and downs.

I had good days, and I’ve had a lot of bad days, but the days were worth it. Sometimes God allows things to happen to us, but it's not to punish us but to build endurance and so that our faith will be strengthened. He is the only reason I survived.

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