*Guest Blogger Kevin Harker, Executive Vice President, Midwest Affiliate shares a story about loss. And while it’s difficult to read a story that doesn’t have a happy ending, it’s important that the story still gets told …. because the unfortunate reality is that heart disease is still killing one woman every minute.
Rekisha Harris was 32 years old in 2011 when she was first diagnosed with a congenital heart defect called non-compaction. At first, doctors thought it was post-partum cardiomyopathy, as she’d just given birth to her third child a few weeks earlier. But further testing revealed that it was much more critical. Her only treatment option was a heart transplant.
While waiting in the hospital for a suitable donor, Rekisha underwent emergency open heart surgery to implant an LVAD (left ventricular assist device) to help her heart beat. And then, a week later, she had a second emergency open heart surgery to remove a blood clot. Finally, a week before Christmas of 2011, she received her new heart. After nearly nine months in the hospital, she was able to return home to her family in January of 2012.
"Each one of my kids said for Christmas, all they wanted was for me to get a heart," Rekisha said in 2012. "They’re like, ‘we just want you to get a heart so you can come home.’"
Unfortunately, 10 months later, Rekisha was again hospitalized and fighting for her life after her body rejected the donor heart. After undergoing an emergency procedure, receiving multiple treatments and medications, she was released again in November of 2012, and looked like she was on the road to a full recovery … until January 10th of this year, when she died from heart complications after being admitted to the hospital.
Throughout her travails, Rekisha remained an ardent supporter of women’s heart health, serving as a national spokesperson for the Go Red For Women movement. In a guest column she penned last year for the Huffington Post, she wrote: "I am passionate about telling as many women as I can to fight for their health and speak up when something doesn’t feel right. Fight to be heard, fight for a correct diagnosis and fight to beat all odds. I want more women to pay attention to any changes in their health and see as many doctors as necessary to be sure their voice is heard."
In her 35 years, Rekisha touched many women by sharing her story. In the midst of a valiant battle to save her own life, her courageous choice to speak up undoubtedly changed people’s lives.
As we celebrate the 10th anniversary of Go Red For Women – the cause Rekisha cared for so deeply – I hope you’ll help her legacy live on by spreading the word about heart disease, the No. 1 killer of women. In honor of Rekisha, and all our heroic women who are fighting back, we will keep on raising our voices for a world free of cardiovascular diseases and stroke. Join us at www.goredforwomen.org
Kevin D. Harker,
Executive Vice President, Midwest Affiliate