A Young Mother’s Battle Against Heart Disease


BY Mary Leah Coco

Most people have a “fear” of getting old, especially when they get to those “milestone” birthdays.  Not me!  I have always loved celebrating my birthday.  I was even more excited about turning 30 because this would be my golden birthday.  I would be 30 on the 30th!  I had no idea what my 30th year would have in store when I blew out those 30 candles and the one candle to grown on.  I just knew I was sure thankful I had that one to grow on!

A few months after my 30thbirthday when my little girl, Annie, turned two, I decided it was time for me to have a cardiovascular wellness checkup.  Why?  I have a family history of heart disease, so I knew this visit was important.  You see, in the summer of 2008 when I was seven and a half months pregnant my mom was diagnosed with a hole in her heart.  Right after she was diagnosed, I asked my doctor if I should get checked out and before I could finish my question her answer was a swift, “No, you have a great blood pressure and are otherwise healthy.” So, after Annie was born later that year, I went on with my life as a mom, wife, full-time Ph.D. student, full-time employee, and whatever else life had to offer.

A few years later, I made an appointment with my mom’s cardiologist because I knew he had a very clear picture of my family history of heart disease.  I got checked in, weighed, blood pressure checked, EKG done, and all seemed just fine.  In fact, my blood pressure was nearly perfect.  However, since my mom had a hole in her heart, my doctor decided to do an echocardiogram of my heart “just for good measure.”  When the echo was done, my doctor sat me down and said, “You have managed to surprise me.”

I asked him if I was going to cry and he simply hung his head and said “yes” and handed me a tissue.  He proceeded to tell me that I had a heart condition called Dilated Cardiomyopathy and that only 10% of my heart was functioning.  In my mind, what I heard him saying was:  you many not live to see your little girl grow up.  How could this be?  In my wildest dreams I would have never thought I would have heart disease, especially at age 30.  I didn’t even have wrinkles yet!  I had been physically active my whole life; I even did Jump Rope for Heart growing up, played soccer through college, and still played tennis. No matter how much I wanted this to be untrue, I was now the face of heart disease.

After the shock settled in, I told myself that I had to pick myself back up and move forward.  I wasn’t the first woman to be diagnosed with heart disease and sadly I wouldn’t be the last.   Seven months after my diagnosis, my heart function only had improved to 18% after months of treatment and it was now onto step two.  I had a cardioverter defibrillator implanted on the left side of my chest to help me survive sudden cardiac death, which is my number one threat with a weak heart.  Just shy of one year post surgery, I found out I was officially being tracked as a heart transplant patient.  Sometimes it seems unreal that at age 32 I need a new heart.

Heart disease doesn’t just impact me.  It impacts my entire family.  One night, while I was putting Annie to bed, she looked up at me with her big brown eyes and said, “Mommy, tomorrow we can go to Build-A-Bear and get you a new heart.  I’ll rub it, kiss it, and then you can have a new heart so you won’t be sick anymore.”  If only it were that easy. Just 10 years ago, my diagnosis was almost immediately fatal. Yet, because of the advances in technology and medicine and the contribution of the American Heart Association, I now have a chance to pick out Annie’s wedding dress with her one day. Now, I am an advocate for other women.  I Go Red because:

  • I believe the research by the American Heart Association is why I am here today;
  • I know living a healthy lifestyle can save my life;
  • The Go Red for Women campaign lets me know I am not alone in this fight;
  • The Go Red for Women campaign means together we can stop the number one killer of women.

One day, I will be the recipient of a new heart because of the research done by the American Heart Association.  I will be able to run, swim, and continue fighting this fight against heart disease.  The face of heart disease can be deceiving; don’t let this silent killer deceive you.

Learn more about Mary Leah Coco here and in her video below. Read more stories from real women with heart disease here.