Atlanta, Ga. (October 24, 2013) – Karen Wright knew she could no longer live the way she was living when she found herself unable to walk from her kitchen to her garage. Having suffered from heart failure for nine years, Wright had long relied on medication to help keep her failing heart going when she decided to have a mechanical heart device implanted at Piedmont Atlanta Hospital in an effort to regain some control of her life.
“I told Dr. [Victor] Corrigan, ‘Do whatever you have to do. I can’t live like this anymore,’” said Wright, a single mother from Fairburn, Ga. “There were times when I tried to tell myself it wasn’t what it was, but I knew my fatigue had nothing to do with lack of sleep.”
Until this point, Wright had been wary of having a heart pump, called a left ventricular assist device (LVAD), implanted. Though she knew the LVAD could improve her quality of life, she was hesitant to make that next step.
Instead, she first tried medications and even had surgery to implant a pacemaker and defibrillator. Just six weeks after surgery, the night before her daughter’s high school graduation, Wright suffered a stroke. She went on to try various heart failure medications and therapies until March 2013, when she decided to have an LVAD implanted.
“Ignorance is bliss,” Wright said of her hesitancy to get an LVAD. “Now, I feel like I felt years ago.”
Though the LVAD has helped her immensely, Wright considers the LVAD a temporary solution as she was just listed on the heart transplant waiting list a few weeks ago.
“For the last 16 years, I have gone on medical missions to Jamaica,” said Wright, who is used to giving so much of herself to patients - some of them heart failure patients like herself - as a nurse practitioner at St. Joseph’s Mercy Care. “I could not go on this year’s mission because of the LVAD but I hope to go back to serving others as soon as I get a transplant, God willing.”
Wright, who is Jamaican, is one of 32 black Americans waiting on a heart transplant in Georgia and 816 black Americans waiting nationwide, according to the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services. She hopes her story will encourage others, particularly minority women, to pay attention to their bodies and not ignore symptoms.
“It never ceased to amaze me every time Karen would come to my office and I found out she was still working while her heart continued to function at only 15 percent,” said Dr. Corrigan. “Living with heart failure is no simple feat, but Karen managed to keep going and give back to the community. My hope is that we will soon find the heart Karen needs.”
According to the American Heart Association, heart failure affects 5.7 million Americans and causes more than 55,000 deaths in the United States each year. Symptoms of heart failure include shortness of breath, persistent coughing or wheezing, swelling in the feet, ankles or abdomen, fatigue, lack of appetite and nausea.
To learn more about heart failure, visit piedmontheart.org.