My Story: Heart Valve Advocate Reminds Patients and Caregivers They’re Never Alone

Kim Headshot
Like many women, I’m often more comfortable helping others than I am receiving help. However, when I found myself dealing with a serious heart condition, I quickly learned the importance of having a strong support network and advocating for myself.

In 2003, I learned I had a congenital aortic defect, but was told it could be decades before it would require replacement. However, just six years later I felt a sudden pain in my chest while I was substitute teaching. I went to the doctor immediately, and I was shocked to learn that I was already in need of an aortic valve replacement. I was only 42 years old at the time.

Initially I hesitated to tell anyone about my mechanical heart valve because it was difficult for me to accept that there was a foreign object in my body, not to mention the scars on my chest from the surgery. One of the toughest parts of my recovery was having to give up some of my independence during my first few weeks at home. I was very weak at first, and it took about two months before I felt like I could walk or drive.

As a former social worker and teacher, I spent much of my career helping families and connecting them with resources, but it took me a while to open up and accept the help I needed. I was lucky that my husband was able to take a bigger role running our household, juggling work and caregiving for our two young children while I recovered. We were also fortunate to have family and friends pitch in to help us out during this time. I don’t know what I would have done without their support.