I am so happy to share Keri's story with you today. Keri is one of my Go Red Ambassador heart sisters. She is an amazing woman and has an incredible story to tell!
My name is Keri Mathew, and I was born with heart disease. Heart disease has been a part of my life and affected my family as long as I can remember. In 1978, at the young age of 4, I was diagnosed with Aortic Stenosis and a Bicuspid Aortic Valve. My parents had taken me in to the pediatrician for a regular well child check-up, and my doctor commented that my heart murmur that had been present since birth had not gone away, so he suggested that my parents get it checked out. It was at that time that a heart catheterization showed I was born with this congenital heart defect. Then, just a few short months later that same year, my Dad found out he also had the exact same heart defect. Fast forward a few years, and in 1985, my Dad had his first open heart surgery (at the age of 39) to replace his aortic valve; my paternal grandfather died of a massive heart attack at the age of 66; in 1998 my son, Dakota was born with the exact same heart defect, and in 2009 my Dad had his second open heart surgery to replace a large section of his aorta that had a significant aneurysm developing.
Since my heart defect was found at such a young age, I had the benefit of “knowing” about my heart problems, and have been closely monitored by cardiologists my entire life. As a child, I was allowed to be as physically active as my body would tolerate, until upper elementary age, when I really started noticing that I was getting winded much easier than other kids and was eventually pulled from all sports in junior high. As I got older and the leakage in my heart valve was getting worse, I was even told by my cardiologist that there was a chance I would not be able to have children in the future because of the strain a pregnancy could have on my heart. This was such devastating news, as I had always dreamed of having my own family one day. Fortunately, I was blessed to meet a wonderful man in college who became my husband and was willing to stand beside me through this journey. So, shortly after we were married, I began undergoing several tests throughout the next year to determine if my heart was strong enough for pregnancy, and my cardiologist agreed to let us begin our family. And, about 10 months later, we were blessed with the birth of our first child in May of 1998 – a son, Dakota! My pregnancy with Dakota went as smoothly as could be expected. We knew that since the heart defect my Dad and I both had was obviously genetic, there was a chance our children could also have the same defect. It ends up that Dakota was also born with Aortic Stenosis and a Bicuspid Aortic Valve Disease.
After I had Dakota, the leakage in my heart valve continued to get worse, the aneurysm that was developing in my aorta was getting larger, and my symptoms of shortness of breath and a decrease in energy was getting more prevalent. At this point, I knew in my mind my heart surgery was going to need to happen, but I desperately wanted to have one more child. And, 4 ½ years after Dakota was born, we were blessed with the birth of our daughter, Riley. This pregnancy was much more difficult on me, and my quality of life was quickly deteriorating after she was born. It began getting extremely difficult to just walk through the grocery store, do household chores or carry my infant daughter through the house. So, in November 2003, at the age of 29, with two small children at home (Dakota was 5 ½ and Riley was 9 months old), I underwent my open heart surgery to have an aortic root replacement and a mechanical aortic valve implanted. It was a difficult time for our family, as I was not able to hold, lift, or carry my children for 8 weeks after my open heart surgery. But, I once again was extremely blessed, as we were showered with love and support from our wonderful family, friends and church family!
The Matthew Family
After my open heart surgery, I was given a new lease on life and felt great for about 5 or 6 years. But, then I developed some electrical issues and in October 2010, had a pacemaker implanted. So, this year I celebrate the 10th anniversary of my open heart surgery, and the 3 year anniversary of my pacemaker. But unfortunately, my story doesn’t end there, as just this past summer I suffered a TIA (also referred to as a mini stroke). Thankfully, I made a full recovery with the help of today’s medical advancements. However, I am embarrassed to say that until the doctor’s told me what happened, I didn’t believe that it could happen to me!
Now, as a 39 year old wife, mother, career woman and heart disease survivor, I am even more passionate about telling others about the risks and warning signs of heart disease and stroke and helping raise awareness. I began working as a Go Red Ambassador with the Kansas City American Heart Association in 2009, and have been blessed to work alongside other women who have been personally affected by heart disease, or have a loved one who has been touched by heart disease and are passionate about the cause. I have had the opportunity to share my story and help raise awareness that heart disease is the Number 1 killer of all women. But I have faith that with continued education and awareness, we can change that statistic! I am often told that I do not look like the face of someone living with heart disease or who recently had a mini stroke….but that is just it – you can’t see heart disease in the mirror and it does not discriminate!
Today, I am happy to say that we are a family of three generations of heart disease survivors! Dakota is a very active fifteen year old and plays soccer at the high school. As well, he is in the high schools drum line and choirs and is active in the youth group at our church. He is being closely monitored by the cardiologist for now, but will likely need to have his heart "fixed" at some point too. Our family has already experienced generations of medical advancements, and we know that the research and developments that are made today one day will be used to help Dakota and other families facing heart disease.
3 Generations of Heart Disease Survivors!