Heart Valve Disease Personal Stories

Heart valve ambassadors

Facing heart valve surgery can be a daunting task. You have every reason to be hopeful and positive about your recovery. You’re in good company: hear from other patients sharing their experience with heart valve surgery.

AHA's Heart Valve Ambassadors

This group of volunteer ambassadors includes six heart valve disease survivors and one caregiver from across the country who represent the face of heart valve disease in America. These volunteers show that heart valve disease can affect people of all ages, backgrounds and lifestyles. These ambassadors serve as leaders in the community and work with us to raise awareness about heart valve disease, while sharing valuable resources for patients and families. Learn more about them here and be sure to connect with them on our Support Network.

Thelma HillMeet Thelma Hill, AHA Heart Valve Ambassador

Decades after she had rheumatic fever, Thelma learned it was a risk factor for heart valve disease, a diagnosis she received as an adult. Despite some ups and downs, Thelma has maintained a joyful attitude and a healthy lifestyle.

photo of Jim AbrahamMeet Jim Abraham, AHA Heart Valve Ambassador

Jim Abraham thought he was “one and done” when he underwent open-heart surgery to repair his mitral valve in 2017. But when a test showed a new problem with his heart valve three years later, “it was a serious wake-up call” to pay closer attention to his heart health.

Kimberly Goodloe headshot

Meet Kimberly Goodloe, AHA Heart Valve Ambassador

Kimberly has experienced heart valve disease firsthand. Kimberly was born with an abnormal valve, but didn’t begin to develop symptoms until her 40s. She learned she needed an aortic valve replacement in 2009 and underwent open heart surgery, receiving a mechanical valve to replace her damaged aortic valve. Four days after her surgery, she developed a blockage and during a second surgery, she received a pacemaker.

Contact Kimberly on the Support Network.

Check out Kimberly's blog.(link opens in new window)

Mark Ridder HV Ambassador badge

Meet Mark Ridder, AHA Heart Valve Ambassador

Mark's journey with heart valve disease began in high school, when a heart murmur was detected in a routine physical exam. Later in life he was diagnosed with aortic valve stenosis, which ultimately turned severe enough to require valve replacement surgery. He's thankful for the care and treatment he received during and after his surgery, completing a 12-week cardiac rehab program and building back up to jogging 4 miles regularly. Mark maintains a passionate interest in researching the use of nutrition, exercise and lifestyle choices to reduce the risk of developing heart disease. Understanding the power of a community that can truly empathize, he decided to mentor others as an AHA Heart Valve Ambassador.

Contact Mark on the Support Network.

Christine Rekash HV Ambassador badge

Meet Christine Rekash, AHA Heart Valve Ambassador

At a routine physical, Christine's physician detected a heart murmur. Upon being referred to a specialist, she was told she had mitral valve prolapse. Upon close monitoring and a watchful eye of her cardiologist through routine testing, she developed a leaking mitral valve. The condition had worsened, causing her heart to become enlarged as it worked harder to pump blood between the chambers. She had her mitral valve repaired through traditional open heart surgery and later developed post surgical complications. Christine has made it her mission to "pay it forward" and provide comfort,  encouragement and inspiration to others facing heart surgery. She shares her tips and tricks in how she is "kicking" out heart disease on beat a time in the hopes of making someone else's journey a little easier.

Read My Journey: Operation Backward Blood Part 1  |  Part 2  |  Part 3

Contact Christine on the Support Network.

headshot of Ray RiveraMeet Ray Rivera, AHA Heart Valve Ambassador

Ray lives in Pasadena, California. He has retired from television broadcasting and currently spends his time traveling, working on various personal projects and staying healthy. Ray writes in honor of Hispanic Heritage Month.

HV Ambassador badge Debra North

Meet Debra North, AHA Heart Valve Ambassador

Debra North was born with myxomatous mitral valve prolapse, a degenerative form of valve disease. At birth, she survived a heart attack that caused a stroke; she wasn’t expected to survive. For years, her valvular heart disease did not affect her life—she even ran track in high school. She was told she would not need a valve replacement until her 60s, however at age 30, Debra began having symptoms of valve failure which led to a repair and eventually replacement in 2016. Due to complications from her replacement, Debra expects yet another valve surgery in the future. These experiences led her to become involved with the AHA and join the Heart Valve Ambassador program to help elevate awareness about valvular heart disease.

Susan Strong Ambassador headshot

Meet Susan Strong, AHA Heart Valve Ambassador

A hiker and healthy eater, Susan Strong was surprised to hear she needed heart surgery in her late 40s. But radiation therapy she had received more than three decades earlier to treat Hodgkin’s lymphoma had taken its toll: Strong had developed severe aortic stenosis and regurgitation. As an ambassador, Strong is sharing her story online and in person to support fellow patients — and even to inspire her students to dream up inventions like the one she credits with saving her life. "I want to take what I’ve been through and encourage people and give them hope that they can live a full life.”

Contact Susan on the Support Network.

Check out Susan's blog(link opens in new window)

Tom Broussard head shot

Meet Tom Broussard, AHA Heart Valve Ambassador  

Tom underwent quadruple bypass surgery at 59. Relieved to have avoided a heart attack, he didn’t expect to have a heart valve replaced and then soon after, a debilitating stroke caused by a blood clot and then learning a few years later that he would need another heart valve replacement. 


Meet some of our past Heart Valve Ambassadors.


Heart Valve Ambassador Ray Rivera’s journey with heart valve disease 
Allison: From My Heart to Yours: Valve Surgery Recovery Part 2

Allison shares her journey of recovering from heart valve repair surgery. “I was ready to invest in recovery”. Almost immediately after surgery, her symptoms diminished. Support from friends and family was key to her recovery. She urges everyone to know the symptoms of heart disease and take action.

Diane Graf

Diane Graf: Heart disease and stroke survivor

Not only did Diane Graf have double heart valve replacement surgery, further testing determined that she had suffered a stroke in the process.

Karen Griffith

Karen Griffith: Aortic valve replacement

Facing aortic valve replacement at the age of 85, Karen was naturally anxious about the surgery. Her positive attitude and sense of humor helped speed her recovery, and she continues to travel and enjoy life.


Watch, Learn and Live

See your cardiovascular system in action with our interactive illustrations and animations.

Sponsor

Edwards Lifesciences logo

The Edwards Lifesciences Foundation sponsors the AHA’s Heart Valve Education Center and Ambassador Program: Heart Valve Disease.

Heart Valve Disease Resources

Find out more about your heart valves and how to manage heart valve disease.