2024 Go Red for Women Class of Survivors: Stephanie Bowden

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

Stephanie Bowden was 11 when she was diagnosed with hypertrophic cardiomyopathy. Sixteen years later, the newlywed wants to be a mom and uses her health challenges as motivation every day.

Heart disease has been a part of Stephanie Bowden’s life for as long as she can remember. Her mom had hypertrophic cardiomyopathy, which is a thickening of the heart. At age 11, Stephanie learned she also has the genetic condition, as does her sister.

Coping with heart problems and open-heart surgery at a young age wasn’t easy.

“As a child, you don’t even completely understand the magnitude of what they’ve just told you,” said Stephanie, who lives in Pinnacle, North Carolina. “Being young, you think you’re invincible, and you think that, ‘Oh, I have this, but it’s nothing huge.’ Then you realize you’re not invincible, and you are going to live with this for the rest of your life. So, what are you going to do with your life? What are you going to do to make sure that you made meaning out of it?”

In 2022, she was diagnosed with atrial fibrillation (AFib), an irregular heartbeat that can lead to blood clots, stroke and heart failure. That year, she also lost her mom to a heart attack caused by a blood clot due to surgery complications. Grieving her mom’s death while handling her own health issues has been a struggle. But, she said, the challenges have increased her desire to be here for “my future children, my future grandchildren, my husband and for myself.”

Now 27, Stephanie works at the hospital where her own life was saved. Over the years, she has supported scientists who are studying heart disease, which has been a passion of hers since childhood.

“Living with cardiac disease definitely influenced the fact that I went into health care, and even more so in research,” she said. “When I was younger, I sometimes went through medical things and thought, ‘This could be better, or that could be better.’ And now I get to be a part of that better.”

As a newlywed, she is also focused on becoming a mom one day. She is committed to being as healthy as possible before she starts in vitro fertilization treatments to get pregnant. She does water aerobics three times a week, listens to meditative music while walking, journals and eats a heart-healthy diet. The changes are challenging sometimes, but she knows they will be worth it.

“You will feel so empowered whenever you have reached that point when you say, ‘OK, I’ve accepted this. This will not determine the outcome of what I want in this life.’”

She has seen the value in having this positive attitude.

“I think that some of the changes that I have definitely made is my mindset, which is this isn’t going to bring me down,” she said. “This is only going to make me stronger. As clichéd as that sounds, get knocked down nine times, get up on the tenth.” She hopes women of all ages hear her message of determination.

“There are plenty of young women living with heart disease today and you have support,” she said. “It matters so much to share what you went through and be actually raw with it and show where your resilience showed up. From there, somebody else can find meaning and say, ‘She did this. She turned out OK. I can do this. I can turn out OK.’”

She is also committed to making a lasting impact.

“Our generation has the power to end so much of heart disease,” she said. “I can say that my children may never have to live through some of the things I’ve lived through with cardiac disease because of modern medicine.”

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