Monique Acosta House was constantly exhausted. It turned out she had heart failure — at the tender age of 22. Eventually she needed a heart transplant, and now she advocates for heart health, diversity among clinical trials participants and strong communication between patients and doctors.
Monique Acosta House thought her constant exhaustion stemmed from pushing herself too hard at work and in college.
But it was much more. An echocardiogram revealed her heart wasn’t pumping as well as it should — she had congestive heart failure.
Many people with heart failure can lead full, enjoyable lives when the condition is managed. House followed doctor’s orders, participated in a clinical trial and remarkably rebounded within a year – it demonstrated the benefit of clinical trials to help return House to a stable heart function after her severe diagnosis.
Life progressed, House married and took a fast-paced corporate job. Juggling the demands of frequent business travel, though, she lost track of her medication schedule and experienced an irregular heartbeat known as arrhythmia.
“I was in my 20s and thought I was invincible,” House said. Her doctor changed her medication and got her back on an even keel. Though her heart function dropped, she was still able to live without limitations but not nearly the same as before her diagnosis.
When she decided to have a baby a few years later, she struggled to find a doctor who accepted high-risk patients as cardiovascular disease remains the leading cause of maternal death in women. Then she dealt with the emotional toll of miscarriage. But in 2003 she finally had a son, Asa, a name that comes from the Hebrew for “Healer.”
But her heart struggles continued, and two years later she required an Implantable Cardioverter Defibrillator (ICD). The device can detect an irregular heartbeat and return it to normal. By 2012 she could only work part time, although she hoped regular exercise would help strengthen her heart.
In 2016 she was put on a heart transplant waiting list. As she awaited a new heart, House struggled to accept her situation.
“It took me totally by surprise, even though I didn’t have a great quality of life,” she said.
She received her gift of a new heart in July 2017 and spent 70 days in the hospital struggling with kidney failure and valve issues as a result.
She returned to work a year later, staying vigilant to avoid illness or injury.
Now 47 and living in Woodbridge, Va., House advocates for more African Americans to participate in research. Research helps ensure the development of new medications and treatments that benefit everyone, especially women of color.
“Most of the people in the clinical trial I participated in were white men over the age of 60, but it saved my life,” she said.
She also encourages others to develop strong relationships with their doctors and to advocate for their health. Pay attention to symptoms, Monique says, and seek help if something doesn’t seem right – don’t wait.
“I trust my doctor implicitly, because he hears me,” she said. “Your doctor should be able to explain everything to you, and if you don’t get answers that educate you and help you understand your health, that’s not the doctor for you.”