Moving to a new state to break the cycle of heart failure

A recent transplant from Detroit, Shirley has spent much of her working life taking care of others.

So when she was diagnosed with congestIMG_46852ive heart failure, she learned the hard way it was time to take care of herself.

Shirley’s story begins in adolescence, when her life long weight loss challenges began. “I was always a heavy person, but I’d always been able to do just about anything. I had enough energy to do whatever I wanted.” Not true come November of 2008, when her breathing became compromised. Her condition grew worse after her 40th birthday, and she visited two hospitals in Detroit, her hometown.

“Pneumonia” was the prevailing diagnosis; one dosed her with antibiotics and sent her from the ER, and another landed her in another hospital for a week. Released, her breathing did not improve. And that’s when a friend observed Shirley didn’t look well, and insisted on visiting a third hospital.

The third time was the charm. “We arrived on Monday, and they told me I’d have open heart surgery on Monday. It was a shock.”

A camera scope discovered congestive heart failure and identified two malfunctioning heart valves. The Mitral valve was completely non operational, and the tricuspid was partially non operational. Surgeons replaced her mitral valve and installed an acrylic ring in the tricuspid.

Shirley recovered well from the surgery, and resolved to start walking and losing weight. “I got my groove back pretty quickly, but I wasn’t focused enough on a weight loss plan,” she says. Considering bariatric surgery, she consulted a cardiologist. “He looked at my history and said at 42, I was so young, and I was literally killing myself. That was an eye opener.”

At that point, her life took a big turn. She decided to move to South Carolina, where relatives and her cardiologist were convinced a fresh start and loving support (family lived here already) would heal her.

“I didn’t want to come,” she says. “But when a stranger tells you it’s time to get out – and he’s been trained in cardiology – you need to listen.”

One hundred and six lost pounds later, Shirley reports the move has been positive for both health and spiritual reasons. But it hasn’t been an easy road. Shirley notes the initial joy of connecting with family – and of surviving her health scare – gave way to a sense that lingering health problems “were a bummer.”

She has lost 106 pounds since the day she left Detroit on an airplane, transported there by wheelchair and strapped in with an extender belt. She rises daily at 5 a.m. to meditate and pray. “God has dropped things in my lap that motivate me. Things have fallen into place that keep me on this path, and encouraged me to bring others along.”

Her continued to health issues – high blood pressure, epilepsy and other conditions – have made recovery slower than she would like. But she perseveres.

She knows now that her mother died of congestive heart failure. That was something she’d been unaware of before, admitting that she “shut down” when her mother died. It’s only recently, upon reviewing her death certificate, that Shirley realized her genetic predisposition.

And yet, despite genetics and ongoing challenges – which she attributes to her lifelong weight struggle – she remains optimistic and focused on a goal. She has started ALOFT (A Leap of Faith Today), a non-profit designed to raise awareness about obesity and lead people to combine spiritual and physical fitness for success.

She has a growing band of followers who seek guidance, encouragement, and practical tips. Her ultimate goal is to provide spiritual and economic support to help others “launch their journeys to divine health.”

“I really believe in eating yourself to divine health,” she says. “There are no quick fixes. But getting healthier, and helping others, is a calling. No matter where you are today, you can take steps to improve tomorrow, and then again the next day.”

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