Nine years ago I was diagnosed with cardiomyopathy and heart failure. I was very weak, but I improved with medication and diet. At this point, I decided to get a second opinion at Emory Healthcare based on Dr. Andy Smith’s recognition in the heart failure community. I quickly felt very comfortable with Dr. Smith and his staff at the Emory Heart Failure Clinic.
My husband and I concluded that we had met the best doctor to manage my progressive illness. Due to our confidence in Dr. Smith, we followed his advice to have a defibrillator implanted in 2006 to help manage my arrhythmias. In 2007, I became symptomatic again because my mitral valve was leaking significantly. Dr. Smith and my local cardiologist in Macon, Dr. Thomas Terry, advised that I have valve surgery. In 2008, Dr. Robert Guyton, at Emory, performed a mitral valve repair on my heart. A few weeks after surgery, I began having more arrhythmias that could not be controlled. As a result of this new challenge, I had a cardiac ablation in Macon by Dr. Felix Sogade. My heart continued to weaken over the next two years, and I was placed on the heart transplant waiting list in February 2010.
Living with advanced heart failure has been challenging at times. Before my heart transplant in March 2010, there were the days when I couldn’t grocery shop, vacuum or even walk for five minutes. I even dreaded having to wash and dry my hair because I would get exhausted and had trouble breathing.
Life has changed for my family over the last nine years but my husband and I believe that these changes have been beneficial to improving our way of approaching life. Due to my illness, we were unable to have children and our greatest gift has been our beautiful son that we adopted in 2008. We now appreciate each day that we are given and feel very blessed that I have been given a second chance at life.
Waiting for a new heart can be a difficult challenge. But, my family was blessed when we received a phone call about a new heart only 10 days after being placed on the waiting list. Having the heart transplant was such an exciting time for me. When I first came off the ventilator after the surgery, I could already feel an improvement. I noticed my chronic cough was gone and my husband quickly told me I had color in my cheeks again. Four days after surgery I was walking the hospital halls. In fact, I was walking faster and further than I had in the previous two years. I have been exercising ever since: walking, running, light weight training and tennis. These are activities most people take for granted; activities I used to take for granted. Not any more, now I appreciate all activities of daily living. I even enjoy working again!
Since having my transplant, I am followed at the Emory Transplant Clinic and I am proud to say I have met many more remarkable doctors and nurses. I call my clinic doctors, typically Dr. Book, Dr. Laskar or Dr. Cole, my biopsy buddies since I have to have heart biopsies on a regular basis to check for rejection of my new heart. They are great at their jobs, but I would not expect anything less from such a superb hospital. My confidence in Emory, my faith in God and my support from my family give me the courage to continue living life to the fullest each and every day. I could not ask for anything more.
There is no doubt that I was able to benefit from the research and advances made possible by organizations like Emory Healthcare and the American Heart Association, and receive a heart transplant – when 50 years ago there would not have been any options for me!
I am proud to be participating in the 2011 Metro Atlanta Heart Walk! The American Heart Association has made huge advances in the treatment of heart disease resulting from funding heart research, and I want to give back so that others can benefit and hopefully we will one day find a cure for heart disease. I am also walking to honor my family, my heart donor and their family, and the many staff at Emory Healthcare who have been with me on my journey from heart failure to heart transplantation.
Malia Veator, Emory Heart & Vascular Center patient and 2011 Atlanta Heart Walk Participant