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Kingston Murriel Jackson, Mississippi

On July 3, 2012, 5 weeks before my due date, I had an appointment for my 8-month checkup.  During the ultrasound the physician could not get a good view of the left ventricle of my son’s heart.  He thought it was due to the way he was laying, but wanted to have a pediatric cardiologist look to be sure.  Soon after, I visited the cardiologist and was told that my son had hypoplastic left heart syndrome.  I immediately tried to convince myself this was something minor and would be easily corrected.  Unfortunately the physician told me that Kingston would have to have heart surgery after delivery, a second heart surgery, 5 to 6 months later, and a third surgery a few years later.  I thought this was a death sentence.  I couldn’t imagine a baby going through something like this. 

The following week, we met with the fetal medicine team, the pediatric cardiology surgeon, and staff to prepare us for delivery.  My family and I spent a day with support nurses and asking questions of the physicians.  We received information on the advances in heart surgery, congenital heart defects, heart health and the success rate of infants that have the three heart surgeries.  On August 6th, Kingston was born and had a successful Norwood procedure for his first heart surgery.  Five months later Kingston’s Glenn surgery was successful as well.  We have been very fortunate to not have any complications and have a healthy, active baby today. 
 
The most interesting part of my family’s story is that we’ve always supported the American Heart Association through donations, walks and at their events for children.  Every year I participated in the American Heart Association’s Go Healthy Challenge, but I never thought the efforts, education and research of this organization would affect us personally until Kingston was born.  Often people think the AHA’s mission is adult specific and focuses just on the prevention of heart attack and stroke.  My work with the organization and having Kingston is a testament of how heart health starts at birth and how important it is to practice prevention every day, for all ages.  Kingston has made our family realize that often people take their heart for granted until their faced with a health scare or heart disease.  Maintaining Kingston’s health has encouraged each of us to eat better and live more active lifestyles so that we can be here to watch him grow up.  Although I was already an advocate for AHA, I am now an even stronger supporter and educator of their mission to prevent heart disease.

– Elizabeth Foster (Kingston’s Mom)

Kristy Sidlar Michigan

So there I was on the side of the road by myself, lying next to my bicycle. I was fading in and out of consciousness, honestly wondering if these were going to be my last moments. My plans to compete in the triathlon I was training for were far from my mind. What I was thinking was, “Why is this happening? Why today?” It was my 31st birthday.

After about 40 minutes of my heart racing at 280 beats per minute, another cyclist finally rode by and called 911. Paramedics arrived and used an automatic external defibrillator (yep…the shock paddles) to normalize my heartbeat. I was rushed to the hospital where doctors spent 10 days trying to find a diagnosis for my erratic and very fast heat beat. The doctors said, “We can’t fix you, but we can save your life.”

They planned to do a relatively standard procedure called radiofrequency ablation but once they “got in” they realized my heart was riddled with cells that conduct extra impulses, causing rapid heartbeat. The best option available to me at that point wasn’t the ablation; they decided to install an implantable cardioverter defibrillator (ICD). It’s a device about the size of a pager that is essentially a set of shock paddles inside my chest. And they prescribed a bunch of meds to get my heart rate under control.

I can hardly believe it’s been almost 15 years since I was diagnosed with Arrhythmogenic Right Ventricular Dysplasia. At the time I wasn’t really worried about the surgery or the shocks from the ICD. What really tore me up was when the doctors told me I wouldn’t be able to train again. I was a bit of a fitness-crazed young woman, and I couldn’t imagine living without this part of my life.

 I didn’t listen at first. I couldn’t let it go. Finally, after I went flying off a treadmill and into the mirror at the gym when my ICD went off during a running workout, I realized that it just wasn’t worth it anymore. Now I walk, workout at a moderate pace on the elliptical and do yoga. My big mindset shift was: “I don’t have to be competitive. I need to do what keeps me healthy.”

 For 13 years now I have been a volunteer and spokesperson for the American Heart Association. These are my two core messages:

 • You don’t have to be old or fat or eat fried food to be at risk for heart disease.

 • Be proactive with your doctors.

Too often people (women in particular) get dismissed by doctors saying that their irregular heartbeats or high blood pressure are stress related or caused by other factors like pregnancy. Maybe they are…but maybe they AREN’T! My experience with this was a six-month-long pursuit for answers after a fainting episode in my late twenties. I was told I was dehydrated. I was told I hadn’t eaten enough, I was told it was the caffeine. Finally, doctors ran the right tests and determined I had a problem with my right ventricle and they treated me accordingly.

Living a heart healthy life can be both easy and hard. It’s taking those first few steps that are the hard part, but healthy habits can become so easy to live by. Please check out the many resources at heart.org to see how you can know your risks, know your numbers and take the right steps to great heart health. And pass this information on to your friends and family. Every little bit of education helps…everyone!

Dr. Ray Castle has volunteered for the American Heart Association for many years.  He has been active with the Heart Walk and within the Advocacy Department.  In 2012, he joined the Louisiana Advocacy Committee.

As a member of the Advocacy Committee, he has worked tirelessly to help the American Heart Association pass policies surrounding AED liability, joint use agreements and ensuring that all schools have AEDs on campus.  He has testified before legislative committees as a subject matter expert and a strong voice for the organization.  He currently is the Athletic Training Program Director and Associate Professor of Professional Practice in the School of Kinesiology in the College of Human Sciences and Education at LSU.  He is also a Certified Athletic Trainer and CPR Instructor.

Dr. Castle has an extensive background in education, clinical practice and professional service. His clinical practice background includes experiences at the clinic, high school, college and international levels.  In 2013, he was recognized by the Louisiana Legislature for providing volunteer emergency medical assistance to the victims of the recent Boston Marathon bombing.  Most recently, in September 2014, he was invited to join the LSU Stephenson Disaster Management Institute as one of their Senior Fellows.