Christine Rekash - Insight to Share with someone newly diagnosed:
Christine is a volunteer with the American Heart Association’s Heart Valve Ambassador Program and shares her story to help raise awareness. She wrote this blog in honor of Valve Disease Day, February 22.
Heart Valve Awareness Day is important to me because, know how I felt when I was first diagnosed with a leaky mitral valve. I felt scared and alone and did not understand the importance of how deadly this can be. While I was told that initially having a heart murmur and mitral valve prolapse was a rather common occurrence, I did not know what this would mean for my future. Overall, awareness of HVD is at a staggering low rate. 60% of people have heard of HVD but only 9% know a great deal about it.
Heart valve disease symptoms are often confused with the everyday stresses of life. such as overall fatigue, shortness of breath, lightheadness and palpitations. As women, our first reaction is to often ignore any symptoms that present themselves, but we must be our own advocate. We must take matters of the heart into our own hands and seek professional medical advice if something does not quite feel right. Timing is essential to operating, as a repair to your own valve is much more advantageous than a replacement. This is why a personal commitment to follow up appointments is vital to surviving heart disease if you are diagnosed.
Valve disease can be asymptomatic and can be deadly if the warning signs are ignored. As someone who is newly diagnosed, I would encourage them to take advantage of the heart.org/heartvalves website. The Education Center offers a wealth of resources on valvular heart disease including digital tools, animations, videos, patient stories and printable resources. I would also encourage someone who is newly diagnosed, to visit valvediseaseday.org to explore the resources that are available to help recognize specific risks and symptoms of heart valve disease, improve detection and treatment.
Finally, I would also share that support and encouragement are available if you are newly diagnosed. This platform – the American Heart Association’s Support Network - provides a place for patients, families and caregivers to give and receive support, improve their own health and impact the lives of others. By joining, you will be able to interact with our heart valve ambassadors and communicate with other members who are going through their own journey to recovery. Most importantly, I would like to share that YOU are NOT ALONE! The medical professionals tell you what they will do medically, but it’s the survivors that can help you understand what it will be like to recover.
Giving a voice to heart valve disease is essential to raise awareness for this often silent but deadly disease. As an Ambassador, I am honored to participate in 2nd Annual Heart Valve Awareness Day. As I have come to know, heart disease affects 1 in 3 women, and it most certainly does not discriminate. When followed carefully by expert medical staff, with treatment timed right, women with heart valve disease can lead normal active lives. I have found that I can maintain my vigorous lifestyle and not be destined to a life of limitations.