Dawn’s Story

This Survivor Spotlight is Presented by Saint Francis Hospital – a member of Trinity Health Of New England

I was born with pulmonary stenosis, which is a defective pulmonary valve. I wasn’t expected to live long, never mind play sports like I did growing up. But because I have had the best doctors, and the best mother anyone could ask for, I’ve been able to live an amazing and very fulfilling life. Sometimes, the “worst” things that could happen to you, are actually the biggest blessings.

Pulmonary stenosis led me to where I am now. Following in my mother’s footsteps, I became a nurse. Now as a nurse, you would think I would take better care of myself, but that couldn’t be farther from the truth. I drove my friends, my family, and my cardiologist crazy. I didn’t eat right; I would get my echocardiogram every two to three years instead of annually like I was supposed to. In my head if there was a problem, I would be the first to know. Everything was fine, until one day, it wasn’t.

I was on the phone with my mom when she asked me why I sounded so out of breath. I was only bringing laundry upstairs so why was I struggling?!? I hadn’t even noticed. At first, I thought I was just “out of shape,” but then others started questioning, and I thought “Ok, it’s time to go see the doctor.”

My echocardiogram showed a membrane growing just under my aortic valve that was restricting blood flow. Completely unrelated to the pulmonary stenosis I was born with, this now posed a bigger threat… and I needed open heart surgery.

Ughhh…just the thought of it made me cringe. It wasn’t the pain I may have to endure, or the long recovery, and it wasn’t even the thought of death that scared me. I was afraid to survive. Afraid to survive the potential complication of a stroke and then need someone take care of me the remainder of my life. Afraid to survive, but with a grim prognosis, on life support, with my mom having to make the decision to “pull the plug.” That’s what scared me.

But I also knew I couldn’t continue my life like this.  So, on May 11, 2021 I had my open heart surgery with the most talented surgeon and wonderful human being and of course, my super smart anesthesiologist. From the people who admitted me, transported me, cared for me in the O.R. and afterwards on the floor, to the cardiac rehab team…just OUTSTANDING!

My advice to anyone out there, don’t be me. You may not survive your stubbornness and mild stupidity. I was fortunate. And while I have a nursing degree and a Bachelor of Science in sports medicine, I continue to learn. The folks in cardiac rehab taught me about taking ownership of my diet, and showed me apps that are available to help me stay on track to a healthier life. The staff and my friends in the classes encouraged me to do better for myself. I encourage you to do the same! Take care of yourself, please!

This Survivor Spotlight poster featuring Dawn will be on display at the 2022 Greater Hartford Go Red For Women Luncheon!