Heart 2 Heart with Avonia
Dr. Avonia Richardson-Miller, Heart Survivor
I am Avonia Richardson-Miller, EdD and I am a survivor!
No one looking at me for most of my life, including myself, would ever think that I would have major heart surgery.
In 2017 I attended an event, Pink Goes Red, co-hosted by my sorority, Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Inc., and had one of several “aha” moments – I really needed to be at that event.
Let me back up a moment: My story began to unfold over the Christmas holidays of 2016. My husband and kids are out shopping and I finally had a moment alone. I was taking advantage of an opportunity to get some much needed rest… in those days it seemed like far too often I was always literally just passing out on the sofa once I got home and sat down to relax.
This particular day, I’m laying down on the sofa watching TV… and all of a sudden I felt this little flutter in the base of my neck where the collar bones come together. This sensation lasted anywhere from about 10 – 20 seconds, but it was enough to get my attention. I’m a person who is very in-tuned to my body because becoming a mother was very difficult for me… it took eight miscarriages before I successfully had my first daughter. During that challenging time, I became very skilled at listening to my body. So when I felt that little flutter, I actually sat up on the sofa and had a little conversation with myself… it went like this…
Well, it didn’t happen again, but God is so AMAZING because although I ignored it, he gave me that sign…. So what happened next… I am SO THANKFUL that God gave me a nasty sinus infection... God truly works in mysterious ways. For three weeks, I unsuccessfully self-medicated. Now, I’m coming up on an exciting trip and at this point I know I that need an antibiotic so I go to see my doctor. Forty minutes into the visit with my doctor, I remember and actually say, “mental note to self” then I proceed to explain the weird flutter feeling I had felt three weeks prior. My doctor agreed that it was really strange. I also reminded with my doctor that I was turning 50 years old in a few days and that I knew that as women age, our health changes and particularly our heart health can change significantly.
“Self, what is that? This is really weird. Is there something going on with my heart??? It couldn’t be, I don’t have any classic heart disease symptoms. I’m fine – but this is so weird that if it happens again, I’m going to go to the doctor and if it doesn’t happen again then mental note to self… I’m going to tell my doctor about this on my next visit because this is just really weird.”
According to the American Heart Association's website, “cardiovascular disease is the No. 1 killer of women, causing 1 in 3 deaths each year. That’s approximately one woman every minute!” I wanted to make sure we monitored my heart health as I aged. My doctor agreed, and scheduled me for a baseline Echocardiogram, saying he wasn’t expecting to see anything, but wanted the results for future reference as we continue to monitor my heart health.
Approximately five days later, I went for my Echocardiogram. In addition to the Echocardiogram, I was behind with a couple of other health screenings… my mammogram and colonoscopy. I had this eerie feeling that the doctors would find something with my screenings, but I was thinking it would likely be the mammogram or colonoscopy since my mom is a breast and colon cancer survivor. I certainly was not prepared for this exchange with the technician:
Long story short, I was immediately referred to a Cardiologist, who ended up cancelling my appointment the day before I was scheduled to see him. Based upon the test results, he was not going to see me because he didn’t want to further delay my treatment. He advised my Primary Care Physician, to refer me directly to a Cardiac Surgeon.
About two weeks later (the earliest appointment I could get), I saw a Cardiac Surgeon. After additional, testing I was diagnosed with an Aortic Aneurysm and severe Aortic Valve Regurgitation due to aortic valve inefficiency… which meant that each time my heart beat, approximately 40% of the blood pumped was regurgitating back into my heart. I was told that without surgery at the most, I had six months, maybe one year left to live and that I could really die any day. The surgeon recommended a full open chest surgery to repair the aneurysm and implant an artificial heart valve which would require me to take life-changed medication for the rest of my life.
In the beginning of my story, I said… I needed to be at that event, I needed to receive the information shared and more importantly… I needed to hear the survivor’s story… Why???
When 2017’s Pink Goes Red survivor spoke, I realized that I had just seen his surgeon five days prior to the Pink Goes Red event… I realized that the survivor and I had the same heart problem… and what encouraged me and strengthened my faith is that here he was about two years later standing before the audience sharing his story! My faith was strengthened!
Technician: “What is your doctor doing about this aortic aneurysm?”
Me: “I don’t have an aortic aneurysm”.
Technician: “What did your cardiologist tell you he was treating you for?”
Me: “Hey, I’m just here for a baseline echocardiogram, I don’t have a cardiologist”.
Technician: “Oh my God, no one has ever told you that you have a problem with your heart… you have an aortic aneurysm and it is very large.”
I knew more than ever that this had happened to me for a reason and that God had revealed this hidden health issue to me so that I could move in the direction of my healing. I knew that there was still a lot of work left for me do here on this earth… I knew there was still purpose for my life that I had yet to fulfill.
I told you that I had an upcoming trip in January (2017) which is what prompted me to make that doctor’s appointment. Well, it was a birthday celebration which included dinner with some close friends and family. My cousin’s date for the night was a very nice gentleman whom I had met for the first time… as fate would have it, one month later this man also ended up being diagnosed with an inefficient heart valve and underwent surgery on February 16th. Originally my surgery was scheduled for March 1st, I was eager to know the outcome and how he was doing. During a conversation with my cousin, I asked about how he was recovering from the open chest surgery, and she informed me that the surgeon performed a less invasive procedure and was able to “fix” his heart valve.
No one had ever mentioned the possibility of “fixing” my heart valve to me. I immediately, went into research mode, discovering the option for heart valve repairs… my research led me to Dr. Didier Loulmet at the NYU Langone Medical Center. After appealing to him as the only doctor who could save me from living the rest of my life with an artificial heart valve implant, and informing his nurse that I had copies all my test results and medical reports, Dr. Loulmet agreed to squeeze me in for a consultation. I had two objectives:
One out of two is GREAT! Due to the aneurysm, my surgery had to be performed as a full, open chest surgery, however he was able to repair my aortic heart valve thereby eliminating the need for me to take life-changing medication. Dr. Loulmet successfully performed my surgery on March 16, 2017. Four and a half days later I walked out the hospital, heading home!
To come full circle, (12 days post-surgery), I showed up to start the intake process to become a member of the illustrious Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, and February 2018 I was honored to share my Survivor’s story at the 2018 Pink Goes Red event not even one year after my surgery!
I wanted him to tell me that he could perform my surgery as a closed chest surgery and
I wanted him to tell me that he could repair my heart valve.
"2017 started off as if it would be the worst year of my life… potentially even the last year of my life. Who would have known that it would turn out to be one of the most AMAZING years of my life!!!"
I was blessed to have a second chance of life, extending my time with my family
My doctors say my recovery has been INCREDIBLE and I am otherwise completely healthy
I became a member of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Incorporated
I was elected to the Plainfield Board of Education
I am an American Heart Association Ambassador
I AM A SURVIVOR!!!