My name is Suzie.

I am 26 years old.

I am Imperfectly Perfect.

I was born with a uni-cuspid aortic valve. Which as a child was diagnosed as mild to trivial. I grew up never worrying about my heart. There is no one in my family with existing heart conditions and aside from doctors picking up on my murmur under the stethoscope, there was never any mention of my condition again.

I noticed when exercising that I would increasingly be out of breath long before those around me. I consistently blamed it on asthma, but I now know it was not. When I was 25, a week before my wedding, I donated blood to the Red Cross and collapsed on the way home. I was unable to breath or walk. This was the turning point in my life. Finally, after 25 years, I went back to see a cardiologist.

It was then that I discovered my condition had drastically changed and developed since birth. I was diagnosed with severe stenosis and severe regurgitation on my unicupsid aortic valve. I was told if I did not have immediate surgery, I would out live my aortic valve before I turned 30. I was also told that I would not survive child birth…both totally life altering pieces of information. This shook me to the core, I felt blindsided.  I felt helpless, terrified and rattled with anxiety about what was ahead of me. I also felt extremely frustrated with myself for not being proactive and taking care of myself better. I decided to use this news as a catalyst for self- change and self love. I promised myself that from this day forward I would live a healthy life and use my story to teach others to do the same.

It took 8 months from detection through to my surgery which was in April of 2017. We opted for the ROSS Procedure which required open heart surgery.  During this surgery they remove the aortic valve, replace it with my own pulmonary valve, and then place a human donor valve into the place of my pulmonary valve. I decided on this surgery because I felt there were a lot of positives attached to it. Having the ROSS Procedure meant I would not need to take Warfarin or heavy blood thinners for the rest of my life, re-operation would not be necessary for another 25+ years and I would be able to safely carry and deliver children which is important to me.

I am now 6 months post op and I take 1, 100mg Aspirin daily. Thankfully, that is my only medication. I am fearful if I do not treat my body well I’ll end up back on the operating table. For this reason, I am now a vegan. I believe this is the best way to nourish my body and provide my heart with the healthy nutrients and goodness it deserves!

Recovery was tricky for me until recently because I did not know anyone else dealing with Heart Disease.  I was the only person in my cardiac rehab and I have not directly met anyone else my age who has had heart surgery. I am so thankful for social media for networking me with so many incredible survivors with whom I can relate and share stories with. Having the right support makes a world of the difference. My message to anyone about to undergo open heart surgery, or anyone who has heart disease would be, you are not alone.

Do not be afraid of recovery or your scar as it is a direct reflection of your battle and survival.

I wear my zipper with pride as I think we all should.

I chose to share my story to remind people that heart disease is not always obvious, and that it is important to see a cardiologist.  My journey proves that. I did not know something was wrong until it was almost too late. For this reason, I think it is so important to educate yourself on heart disease, the signs and symptoms, how to live a healthy lifestyle and be good to your body.