By Amandalyn Vanover
In recognition of American Heart Month, Urban Views RVA invited spokeswomen from the American Heart Association to interview. Here’s the second one we had the pleasure of doing.
A once Navy-bound young woman in Richmond with 15% heart function overcomes living off batteries and survives a coma to receive a new heart. It pleases Urban Views RVA to sit down with another Richmond Go Red for Women Speaker. Meet Amber Eck, a 26-year-old female native to Richmond, Virginia.
Several years ago, Amber developed a case of pneumonia that left her with a viral infection of the heart. The uncommon occurrence damaged her heart and by the time they discovered the damage, she only had 15% function of her cardiovascular system remaining.
Urban Views RVA: “Amber, please tell me how your story of survival began? How old were you and how did you find out about your heart problems?”
Amber Eck: “At 20, I was running to prepare for the Navy entrance exam and started to not feel so well. I chalked it up to the extra exercise I’d been doing. But then it became hard to breathe.
My story officially started in August 2012 with me going into SHOCK as my doctor informed me my heart was functioning at 15% capacity. I recently had a case of pneumonia, which unfortunately led to a mild viral infection of my heart, leaving it permanently damaged.”
UV: “What tests did they give you?”
Amber: “They ran every test imaginable on me. I know I had an EKG, Echocardiogram and chest X-Ray performed right away. There have been many heart catheters.”
UV: “What resulted from the tests they gave you? What about recommended treatments?”
Amber: “None of the results returned with good news. There weren’t any positive answers or cures. No surgery would solve the problem. A new heart would become critical to my survival. They recommended an exterior defibrillator, in other words – a life-vest. I wore it for 10 whole months before they put in the permanent defibrillator. That happened in June 2013. For nearly 3 years, I depended on batteries and wall outlets for my left ventricular assistance device to work. I had to have it to live. It’s not easy trying to live daily life like that.”
UV: “Do you mind going into your story more?”
Amber: “No, not at all. For the first 6 months after they gave me my diagnosis, I lived in denial. I couldn’t deal with it all. Everything that happened was just overwhelming. For over 2 years, I did well being medically-managed and taking medications.
My body compensated for heart failure and surviving with medications. However, by the time 2014 rolled around I was getting sicker and weaker. I was even in the Cleveland Clinic, but they still deemed me to not be sick enough to get listed for a heart transplant.
Then in April 2015, on a Wednesday, my life drastically changed. I heard and felt a very distinct pop in my chest. By Sunday, I was coughing and drowning in my own pulmonary fluids. They called it flash drowning. The pop was where my mitral valve ruptured causing my lungs to fill up.
I slid into a 3-week coma. I was experiencing complete heart failure, and the outlook wasn’t looking good about me living through the surgery. I desperately needed for an implant of an L-valve in my heart. Machines were processing my blood to allow it to re-enter my body. Things were pretty bad.
The doctors had my family tell me goodbye. They brought my mom, my fiance (he’s my husband now), and two younger sisters to my room to tell me their goodbyes since they didn’t expect me to live through the surgery.”
UV: “Wow, Amber! How awful. I can’t imagine what your family went through during those days, not to mention the strength you must have inside of you to survive all of that and live to tell us about it.”
Amber: “Yes, it was very difficult for all of my family. Lucky for me, in September 2015, they deemed me sick enough for placement on the heart transplant list.”
UV: “About time! That is wonderful to hear!”
Amber: “I remember I went home a week after Mother’s Day that year. Home health care took care of me then. My family and husband were right there beside me through it all.”
UV: “What happened then? Did you receive a new heart yet?”
Amber: “Oh yes! In March 2018, I received a life-saving heart transplant.”
UV: “Thank God! It is amazing that everything has turned out so well for you considering the uphill battle you climbed while still so young.”
Amber: “Absolutely! I lived on batteries for three years of my life. It was a whole learning curve for me and my family. It was hard. I want to help others with my story and the information I know since I’ve been through the ordeal.”
UV: “I’d like to ask you what advice would you give other young women about recognizing heart problems and the signs of heart disease?”
Amber: “It is important people have the knowledge they can suffer from heart problems at any age and you don‘t have to be born with a problem to get one. Getting regularly scheduled checkups and taking your health seriously is the message I want to get across.”
UV: “That’s great advice for our audience, Amber. What else would you like to share with Urban View RVA readers?”
Amber: “I have prominent knowledge about what happens when trying to get placed on the transplant list. I want my story to help someone else, maybe make them realize they aren’t alone. This is one of the many reasons I speak and give to people with the American Heart Association.”
Amber is doing well today, taking care of herself, getting regular checkups, and is attending a school where she is studying pre-med.
When it comes to heart disease and heart conditions, stats can be grim. Early detection and knowing how to recognize the signs and symptoms of a heart attack and stroke are critical. Not only that, but people must know what to do and do it fast to save a life.
If you are interested in learning all the different ways you can give, volunteer, or donate to the American Heart Association, visit here.
If you want to become educated in CPR and Emergency Cardiovascular Care (ECC), visit here.
Just recently, Susan Lucci took to the media her story of rushing to the ER due to her own heart problems. “Nobody has to die of a heart attack, you just need to listen to your symptoms.” said Susan, ABC’s All My Children soap opera Queen of TV. If you’d like to see what else she had to say, click the link below to watch the video.
Heart Attack Symptoms
Most heart attacks involve discomfort in the center of the chest that lasts more than a few minutes, or that goes away and comes back. It can feel like uncomfortable pressure, squeezing, fullness or pain.
DISCOMFORT IN OTHER AREAS OF THE UPPER BODY
Symptoms can include pain or discomfort in one or both arms, the back, neck, jaw or stomach.
SHORTNESS OF BREATH
with or without chest discomfort.
may include breaking out in a cold sweat, nausea or lightheadedness.
Spot a stroke F.A.S.T.
Does one side of the face droop or is it numb? Ask the person to smile.
Is one arm weak or numb? Ask the person to raise both arms. Does one arm drift downward?
Is speech slurred, are they unable to speak, or are they hard to understand? Ask the person to repeat a simple sentence, like “the sky is blue.” Is the sentence repeated correctly?
TIME TO CALL 9-1-1
If the person shows any of these symptoms, even if the symptoms go away, call 9-1-1 and get them to the hospital immediately.
Cardiac Arrest Symptoms
SUDDEN LOSS OF RESPONSIVENESS
No response to tapping on shoulders.
NO NORMAL BREATHING
The victim does not take a normal breath when you tilt the head up and check for at least five seconds.