It’s Been a Journey – Patient with Heart Failure Shares Her Story

Lisa was a heartbeat away from a heart transplant after a decades-long effort to manage her heart failure. Her healthcare team and family support system helped her through that critical time, and now, Lisa is back to living an active life. Lisa shared her powerful story to help others recognize key symptoms and to inspire those with heart failure and other chronic conditions to seek out the best care and live their best lives.

It’s been a journey. I’m not going to say it was always easy, because it hasn’t been. But you know, take it as it comes. And one day at a time. I really do appreciate my life.


Did you ever imagine you would be diagnosed with heart failure?

Lisa: I never had any health problems when I was young. I was always an active person and was even a lifeguard for five years as a teenager. My mother and some aunts died of strokes, but heart failure was never top of mind for me. This all started after I had my last child, who is now 22.

How did you find out that you had this condition?

Lisa: Three months after I had my child, I was working as a loan officer at a bank in downtown Pittsburgh. I would catch the bus in the morning, and it was January, so it was really cold. Every morning, I would take my kids to my mom's house. I would have my baby, Carly, in a stroller. I started to notice I would have to keep my back toward the wind because I couldn't catch my breath. I also noticed that my legs were really swollen. So I went to the ER—and that’s when they told me I had heart failure.

For years, you were successful at managing your heart failure. How did you do it?

Lisa: Eating right, taking my medications, and keeping up on my appointments. My primary care doctor, Dr. Chris O’Donnell, always told me, “it all depends on you, and how you handle it.” And I did great with it for many years.

When did your condition start to deteriorate?

Lisa: I was having a hard time breathing and noticing shortness of breath when I would talk, and my legs were getting swollen with fluid buildup. I went to the ER at Heritage Valley Sewickley Hospital and was then transferred and admitted to Allegheny General Hospital. That’s when I met Dr. Philip Nichol, who is still my cardiologist. He told me I had a leak in my heart valve, and that I would need surgery. So I had that repaired.

Three years later, I was at a family reunion we hosted here in Pittsburgh. I felt very winded and I had to lean on the walls to be able to stay up and keep walking. After the weekend, I went back to the hospital. They did several tests—and that’s when I was told my heart was in such bad shape I needed a transplant.  

Who did you lean on during those challenging times?

Lisa: My mom always took care of me. When I was going through all this, she was there for me and my kids. Before she died, she told my brothers and sisters to take care of me. I always said that I believe that God gave my mother the strength to take care of me through this time because he knew that it was time for him to take her home. My older sister also played an instrumental role throughout this journey. She was about to make a huge transition in her life, but she decided to stay behind to help take care of me after she heard I needed a heart transplant.

My husband of nine years, Kenneth, has helped me so much. He’s been there through thick and thin, no matter what—going to doctor appointments, helping around the house, things like that. Whatever I couldn’t do, he would fill the gap and do for me.

You made a bold decision to enter a clinical trial, where you started a novel treatment option. Can you tell us about the experience?

Lisa: I did, and I would do it over a thousand times again. The medical staff got to know me throughout the experience. Even going to take bloodwork at the lab, they knew me. These talented scientists and doctors leading clinical trials have a gift that God gave them, and to figure out ways to help people is an amazing thing. I would advise anybody to try it if they had the opportunity, meet the requirements and their doctor recommends it.

What is your life like now?

Lisa: I get together with my family a lot, and we’re always together for holidays. I go to church. I walk around the neighborhood. Normal, everyday things. It’s been a journey. I’m not going to say it was always easy, because it hasn’t been. But you know, take it as it comes. And one day at a time. I really do appreciate my life.