2024 Go Red for Women Class of Survivors: Chantrise Holliman

The following is Chantrise's story and not an endorsement or diagnosis. Stories have been edited down for time.

Once an avid runner, Chantrise Holliman had a heart attack and severe complications that changed the direction of her life. Now a bilateral amputee, she shares a message of hope and healing with everyone she meets. 

Chantrise Holliman of Savannah, Georgia, always led an active lifestyle. When she turned 45, she was the picture of health as she trained for a half-marathon.

“I would run five miles every morning at 5 a.m.,” she said. “I was drinking all the water. I was eating all the kale. I was doing all of the things.”

So, when she woke up one day in 2018 with chest pains, she assumed it was gas from her dinner from the previous night. She tried to get out of bed but was immediately nauseous and could barely move. Her husband was worried and called 911.

When paramedics arrived, they determined she was having a heart attack. She was rushed to the nearest hospital.

“I remember getting loaded into the ambulance,” she said. “I remember seeing my husband sitting outside, getting ready to get in the car looking completely bewildered and disheveled. I remember the ambulance ride. I remember hearing the sirens.”

Chantrise’s heart condition was complicated by years of living with lupus, an autoimmune disease.

“All of the medicine that they were giving me to save my life, my immune system was rejecting,” she said. “My heart kept stopping, and they couldn’t get my heart to stay beating.”

She found out later that her heart “stopped” several times and doctors used paddles that deliver electric shocks, in increasing strength each time, to successfully stabilize her heart beats.

While recovering in the intensive care unit, her first thought was about her legs, specifically why they didn’t work. Nurses told her it was just because she had been immobile, and her legs were fine.

Blood flow to her extremities was also decreased by medications she was given. Plus, she has Raynaud’s disease, which lessens blood flow to outer parts of the body.

As a result, her feet, fingertips, ears and nose were completely black. Then, infection set into her legs and a surgeon delivered some shattering news.

“The doctor came in and said, ‘We’re going to have to amputate,’” she said. “I remember thinking, ‘I came in with a heart attack. What do you mean, I’m now going to be an amputee?’”

The first surgery amputated her left toes and right leg below the knee. Because of persistent infection, she needed multiple surgeries on her left foot and also had to have her right leg amputated above the knee. When she was told that she faced at least five more surgeries, she decided not to wait out treatment and had her left leg amputated below the knee. Adjusting to her new life as a bilateral amputee was challenging. She spent months in rehab and underwent several more surgeries.

“I had to begin to figure out how to live my life again, and very honestly, I didn’t want to live,” she said. “I was devastated.”

She credits a strong support system of family and friends for pulling her through some dark times. Tough love from her daughter also came at a critical time in her recovery. A few weeks after leaving rehab, Chantrise tried to get out of a promise she made to celebrate her daughter’s 21st birthday.

“The year before, I had promised her that we would go out for Bellinis and mimosas to celebrate,” she said. “I did everything I could to get out of it, but my daughter wasn’t having any of that! That was the first time she used choice words to get me out of the house.”

Venturing out of her comfort zone was exactly what Chantrise needed. It made her realize she wanted her life back. So, Chantrise, now 51, re-examined her lifestyle before her heart attack. She also learned that not managing a preexisting condition like lupus was putting her heart at risk.

“I was doing all the things that I thought I was supposed to be doing, but I wasn’t doing some of the most important things,” she said. “I wasn’t getting enough sleep. I was allowing things to stress me out. I really needed to be in therapy. I wasn’t in therapy.”

Chantrise also was putting her needs last.

“I was a wife. I was a mother. I was an educator, and I was trying to move up in the ranks. I was the person that got there first thing in the morning. I was the last person to leave. If you needed me to do something, go somewhere, do anything, I was your woman.”

That dedication to everyone else was hurting her health. Even one of her doctors would tease her, “The only time you come to see me is when your body is falling apart.” So, she made changes and started putting herself first, in part because of something she heard at a celebration-of-life service for a friend’s mother.

“At the service, they said, ‘She loved herself better so she could love others more.’ That is now my mantra. I have to love myself better, so I can love the people in my life more.”

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