Women’s Heart Health
Texas Heart Institute’s Center for Women’s Heart & Vascular Health Community Ambassadors include several WomenHeart Champions who are dedicated to increasing awareness about heart disease in women on the local, regional and national stage. If you are interested in having one of the champions share their story at your next event, display and distribute heart health information please complete submit your request to firstname.lastname@example.org.
From a heart murmur to a new heart
Anne’s heart journey began in 2008 with congestive heart failure and an ICD implant. In 2014, she had biventricular assist devices implanted, as well as a heart transplant. Anne enjoyed attending WomenHeart Support Network meetings, before finally becoming a WomenHeart Champion. “For years, I was told that I had a heart murmur. I was an active child and adult and walked about 20 miles a week for exercise. But in 2008, that changed. I began to have trouble breathing even without exertion. When climbing a flight of stairs, I had to stop 2-3 times to catch my breath. Finally, it was so bad that I went to a cardiologist who admitted me to the hospital and I was diagnosed with Chronic Heart Failure. They implanted a pacemaker/defibrillator (ICD) to help my heart keep a good pace and I felt better until 2012. When I began to have trouble breathing again, I really thought that I was taking my last breath one night. I went to my doctor who confirmed that I was in the last stage of heart failure and she admitted me to the hospital. A that time my insurance wouldn’t cover a heart transplant so I had a Left Ventricular Assist Device (LVAD) implanted in my heart. Shortly after that, I was able to get insurance that covered a heart transplant and was placed on the waiting list. Ten days later, I got the call that there was a heart for me. It was like I was back to normal! I could breathe, hike in mountains, work out, and travel.”
Payton Campbell is attending Syracuse University and majoring in Journalism. During a Summer Internship at THI, she partnered with a team of dedicated individuals in the Women’s Center, Regenerative Medicine Research Department and Cardiovascular Surgery Research Departments to create an interactive touch box to educate children about their heart and the importance of having a healthy heart. The touch box included hearts from several animals and key facts about each animal. She donated this museum touch box project, Comparative Anatomy of the Heart, to the Houston Museum of Natural Science’s Eco Labs for students and visiting schools to use. Payton also created an educational video explaining the different items in the touch box that can be used in anatomy and heart health classes for kids.
Kimberly’s Story: Hypertrophic Cardiomopathy
Kimberly Connell is from Houston, Texas and lived in Bryan College Station when she was diagnosed with a heart murmur at the age of 12 . She was not able to do as much as she wanted— she could not play with her friends, run or do the normal middle school age kid activities. Once or twice a month she made the trip to Texas Children’s for 6 hour visits for routine ultra sounds, EKGs, x-rays, blood draws and treadmill tests. At 16, no one could tell anything was wrong but her heart condition called Hypertrophic Cardiomyopathy without obstruction prevented her from playing basketball or participation in the ROTC. In 2015, Kimberly became pregnant with a heart functioning at only twenty percent and delivered her beautiful son Isaiah in August. Unfortunately, he passed away a month later and while Kimberly was dealing with the loss of her child, she was also struggling for her life. She was transferred to the Texas Heart Institute (THI) and received a heart transplant in 2016 at Baylor St. Luke’s Medical Center and today she is feeling better than she has felt in many years, married Israel in August 2018 and is giving back to other women by leading a support group. Kimberly’s Story and WomenHeart Journey
A Chef with a Heart
Amanda is a heart transplant recipient and graduate of The International Culinary Schools at the Art Institute of Houston, Texas. She is currently working on a heart healthy cookbook and her goals are to use her creative talents, training, devotion to living a healthy and her life her passion of food and nutrition to enhance the lives of other heart patients. Born with Congenital Heart Disease, at only 14 days old, she had her first surgery to repair a VSD and a Coarctation of the Aorta. She was non-symptomatic and playing sports until the age of 12 when she needed a pacemaker implanted and she was soon diagnosed with Dilated Cardiomyopathy. Doctors started the conversation about a heart transplant and three years later she went into full heart failure, spending 3 months in the hospital undergoing extensive testing, just to be placed on the transplant list. In October of 2003, a stranger whom she calls Bob gave her the gift of life. Amanda learned at an early age the meaning of healthy living and has dedicated her second chance at life to help educate others. Today she teaches heart patients how to modify their favorite recipes, find heart-healthy foods at the grocery store and change their eating habits. She also developed a heart-healthy cookbook and a website to help others with heart disease. She competed in the 2014 Transplant Games of America, winning a Silver medal in discus and a Bronze in the shot put competition and is a proud member of the AHA’s Latina Leadership Circle. Most recently, Amanda was selected by the AHA to be an official 2017 Go Red for Women National Spokeswomen.
Living with Congestive Heart Failure
Pamela Guillory was diagnosed with congestive heart failure in August 2011. Since Pamela received her diagnosis, she has had to make several lifestyle changes. which involved increasing her exercise and maintaining a healthier diet. Pamela credits her local Support Network, WomenHeart Houston, for allowing her to share her story and offering much needed support to adjust to having heart disease. “If I could leave you with one message, it would be not to judge a book by its cover. If you’re feeling strange yet everything else on the outside looks just fine – still have it checked out. You never know what may be causing any uncommon issues you experience. I cannot emphasize enough the importance of exercise. Another message is to always remember that doctor of yours is there for you, take ownership of your visits, ask the right questions, write them down if you need to, and follow up with them.”
Sudden Cardiac Arrest caused by SCAD
Lisa is a teacher and the proud mother of daughters ages 11 and 12, had been very happily married to husband, Ted, for almost 15 years when near-tragedy struck and, she says, she discovered she is married to her “true hero.” In September 2011, Lisa suffered a sudden cardiac arrest at 3:30 in the morning. “After hearing me get up and collapse, Ted came to check on me and found me not breathing and unresponsive,” Lisa says. “He called 911 and immediately started CPR until the EMS arrived.” Lisa was rushed to the hospital and placed in a hypothermic state and drug-induced coma to help minimize damage to her body and brain. It was determined that Lisa’s arrest was caused by a blood clot in an artery, and she had a catheterization and a stent placed in her left anterior descending artery (LAD). Months later, it was further determined that the blood clot that led to her cardiac arrest was the result of a Spontaneous Coronary Artery Dissection (SCAD). Fortunately, Lisa is recovering and feeling healthy, but she is driven by the thought that “so many women don’t know that the risk of heart disease is just as real to them as it was to me.” Lisa wants to help other women understand, through her own example that cardiovascular disease threatens all of us, and should be taken seriously. “I am not a typical heart patient — not older, or overweight, or male,” she says. “I am the face of today’s heart disease in women and it IS a real concern.”
A Mother’s Remarkable Journey
Esmerelda Miranda was diagnosed with heart disease at birth and received her heart transplant in May 2010. Esmerelda is constantly learning about her condition and looks forward to sharing her story with more women in her community. Esmerelda volunteers with the Heart Exchange and CHI Health—Baylor St. Luke’s Medical Center and has spoken at many women’s retreats, local colleges and universities about women’s heart health awareness. (Fluent in Spanish)
Christiana Okafor is a pre-med student at Bowdoin College in Brunswick, Maine. She graduated with honors as valedictorian from the High School for Law and Justice in Houston, Texas in 2019. In 2018, she was chosen from over 50 candidates to participate in an internship with Dr. Stephanie Coulter and her team to gain exposure to biomedical research and women’s heart and vascular disease focused research and education. Today she continues to advocate for heart health and devotes her time to extracurricular activities and academic organizations and serving her community.
She has a strong desire to pursue a career in the medical field and represented her high school and the state of Texas as a delegate at the Congress of Future Medical Leaders Boston, Massachusetts. She participated in the SAGES Mini-medical Bootcamp and successfully completed the Saturday Morning Science Program at Baylor College of Medicine. Her experiences have inspired and influenced her curiosity of the human body, how it works, and why certain diseases arise and have no cure.
A Type II diabetic, Sister Mama Sonya is the founder of The Sisters CD (Controlling Diabetes), a diabetes support group network designed to empower and educate women of color living with diabetes and other health issues. Sweet Sensations for the Spirit, her first book, is a collection of living conversations of such women. The second volume, Sweeter Sensations for The Spirit: Living Conversations II will be published in 2018 as well as enacted in a stage play for Diabetes Awareness Month. She is active in a multitude of community concerns which include: Houston and Disproportionality Advisory Committee, Citizens Review Team for CPS Region 6, Annual Calling Out Ceremony; University Museum @ Texas Southern University; Third Ward Community Cloth; a 30+ year member of the awesome alto section of Jacky Scott & Revelation Gospel Choir; Think Peace International, Basic Element Teaching Center and ministerial ordination under the covering of Living Waters Church-Houston.
Weaving tales of her story/history from Third Ward, the South, and the African diaspora, SISTER MAMA SONYA, aka Sonya Lucas-Roberts, JD, is an “edutainer” poet, playwright, actor, storyweaver, motivational speaker, author and minister of the gospel. Her storyweaving and poetic expressions have been shared across the United States, Bahamas, Bermuda and Ghana, West Africa. Along with her sisters, Ms. B & Lori Lucas, 3sisters in the spirit Theatre Ministry was formed to “harvest hope, healing & harmony” in the lives of women & girls thru “edutainment” and theatre arts on issues such as spirituality, TAOD, re-entry, adoption, abstinence, abuse, self-esteem, HIV/AIDS, women’s health and her story of the ansisters. An actor, she has appeared in numerous 3sisters in the spirit productions as well as stage plays.
A native Third Wardian, she proudly flaunts the crimson & gold of Jack Yates Senior High School. She received a BA in Political Science from the University of Houston & Juris Doctorate from the University of Texas.
Married for 33 years to her soul mate, Craig L. Roberts, they are the proud parents of Shanice Ede. Sister Mama Sonya’s truism for living is…
“the best is yet to come ~ for today is a good day;there is nothing that God & I can’t handle without His tender grace & mercy”
Raising Awareness and Leading by Example
Ms. America® 2013, Chiniqua Pettaway is a philanthropist and remains passionate about her platform of service “Heart Health Awareness” as an ambassador with Texas Heart Institute. Her mission is to educate on heart disease and understanding your risks.
Ms. Pettaway, a Houston, Texas transplant, is originally from Richmond, Virginia. She is an entrepreneur, model, fitness instructor and community leader. Chiniqua owns and operates income tax preparation offices in Houston, TX. She just recently completed her master’s degree in Industrial Organizational Psychology receiving her M.A. from Argosy University in December 2016.
Ms. America® 2013, Chiniqua Pettaway is also a philanthropist and is especially passionate about her platform of service “Heart Health Awareness” as an ambassador with Texas Heart Institute. Her mission is to educate on heart disease and understanding your risks. Heart conditions are the number-one killer of men and women in America. Chiniqua is an active member of National Women of Achievement, where she proudly serves as Treasurer of the Bayou City Chapter in Houston. She was also recently inducted into Top Ladies of Distinction, Inc. She enjoys traveling, dancing and mentoring young women through her platform and other community involvement.
SCAD Survivor Making a Difference
Rebecca is distance runner, was logging miles and keeping her body fit as a way of life. Between running her miles and running her graphic design business, any thought of heart disease was nowhere in the picture. When she experienced a serious heart episode in 2011, she discounted it because of her high fitness level, and even continued to exercise. But she had actually suffered a spontaneous dissection (SCAD) of her left main coronary artery, one of two arteries that feed blood to the heart muscle. It is a dangerous and relatively rare affliction. Fortunately, Rebecca got the help she needed in time. She received an emergency triple bypass, and has since been a passionate advocate for women living with cardiovascular disease and for those many more who are at risk. She’s logging miles again, moving ahead with her life and recovery, and counseling fellow heart patients, which she says is helping her cope with her own recovery. “I was in denial/disbelief about my symptoms, even though my instincts were telling me different. It almost cost me my life,” said Rebecca. “I want to help educate other women so they don’t make the same mistake.
A Family History of Heart Disease
Sabina has a family history of heart disease and has lost several of her family members to massive heart attacks. Sabina met with her doctor after suffering from a mild cough, light headedness, and nausea for three weeks. She was immediately sent to the Texas Heart Institute where she was diagnosed with atherosclerosis, and within a day had a triple bypass. Now, Sabina works to be her own advocate, learning as much as she can about the disease and prevention methods. Sabina has experience volunteering at hospitals and is a spiritual care volunteer with the Chaplain’s office at Texas Children’s Hospital. Sabina believes that her ability to empathize with, lead, and guide people will assist her in reaching women with heart issues. (Fluent in Spanish)
Cardiomyopathy: A Daughter’s mission to educate.
Alexandra Wallace is a junior biochemistry major at the University of Mississippi and passionate about sharing her story and promoting heart health awareness to both the young and adults. She believes that early heart education will help children become healthier adults.
In 2016 she was named an official Heart Health Ambassador for the Texas Heart Institute in 2016. Since then, she has launched Project Heart in Mississippi and Tennessee, sharing her personal story with cardiovascular disease and promoting heart health awareness among children and adults in these states. The work Alex has done with THI and Project Heart was used as her personal platform in the Miss Tennessee Scholarship Pageant in July of 2016 competition, and her platform – Project Heart: Keep Your Beat – was awarded third alternate for the Jean Bartel Quality of Life Award, which recognizes contestants who are committed to enhancing the quality of life of those within her community through volunteerism. In September 2017, Alex was crowned Miss Capital City 2018 and will compete for Miss Tennessee in 2018.
“My goal is that no family has to go through what my family did when we lost my dad in 2007 to cardiomyopathy.”
Cindi Walker almost died of a broken heart.
At age 42, with a 4 year old and a demanding career as trainer, consultant & business owner, Cindi was forced out of the fast paced, hurried, and sleep deprived, unconscious way many working moms function. While on a business trip in 1999, she was working in extreme heat, teaching, facilitating, training, and returning to a small hotel room, alone each night. She awoke at 2 a.m. suddenly with a terrible discomfort in the “center” of her chest that radiated down her arm. She dialed 911, gathered her keys and insurance card and walked out to meet the ambulance—careful not to inconvenience the first responder. Twenty minutes later, she flat-lined, was shocked back to life and told she was having a heart attack. After a trip to the catheterization lab, the doctors discovered that her coronary arteries had “spontaneously dissected,” a rare and often fatal event. After 6 hours of hovering on the edge of death, her heart was successfully repaired with stents. She soon learned that recovery would be a process over years. She lost more than 50% of her heart’s capacity to pump oxygen rich blood to her body and is living a full life with heart failure. “I now live quietly and I live in the now, with intention and gratitude, daily. Living in alignment, I now create change daily to stay in harmony. I am grateful beyond belief and I am passionate about assisting others in living a full and healthy life.”