When my daughter suggested I enter the I Am CardioSmart contest, I thought: “What could I possibly say about living well with heart disease? I just live a normal life.” Even though I was born with transposition of the great arteries, I never viewed myself as much different from anyone else. So I thought about what I have done. I realized that just by taking care of myself, I have lived well. Being active, eating healthy, taking my medication, and visiting the cardiologist regularly have been the keys to my success. My doctors are even surprised at how well I am doing. Now, as I age and more problems arise, these steps that seemed small are more important than ever.
My name is Collette Sroka, and I am a 54-year-old woman who was born a blue baby and required immediate surgery. So, when I was 36 hours old, I had my first open-heart surgery. This surgery created an opening in my heart to allow blood to mix together so oxygen would go to my body. It wasn’t until 1969 that I was able to have a corrective procedure done. At 6 years old, I had another open-heart surgery, the Mustard Procedure. I did very well and went on to live a fairly normal life. To me, I didn’t feel any different from anyone else except that I had regular checkups with my cardiologist and took antibiotics for any dental work.
Growing up, I was as active as my condition would allow. . As a young adult, I exercised regularly by walking and doing Jazzercise. At 19, I had a pacemaker put in. I went to college, got married and had two beautiful daughters. Although more precautions were taken with my pregnancies, for the most part, they were uneventful. I even exercised throughout both my pregnancies.
As I hit my 40s, I started going into atrial fibrillation. This required a few cardioversions, a new pacemaker, new medications and, ultimately, an ablation. My doctor stressed the importance of taking my medication as directed. At this point, I was seeing my cardiologist more often and each time the message was clear: Take your medicine regularly, exercise and eat right.
Now that I’m in my 50s, I have been diagnosed with heart failure and am being evaluated for a heart transplant. My diet is much stricter (less than 2,000 mg a day of sodium), and I continue to exercise. Until last year, I worked full time. I continue to be very active. As a matter of fact, I walk a mile a day with my 90-year-old father-in-law! I have yet to be officially placed on the transplant list because I am doing well for now. My family support and being CardioSmart has helped me live well.