Meet Some of our Past Heart Valve Ambassadors

Over the last several years the American Heart Association has had the honor to work with several patient volunteers, serving as Heart Valve Ambassadors. We are grateful for their work and continued commitment to helping educate others about signs, symptoms and treatment of Heart Valve Disease.

HV Ambassador badge Debra North

Meet Debra North, Former AHA Heart Valve Ambassador

Debra North was born with myxomatous mitral valve prolapse, a degenerative form of valve disease. At birth, she survived a heart attack that caused a stroke; she wasn’t expected to survive. For years, her valvular heart disease did not affect her life—she even ran track in high school. She was told she would not need a valve replacement until her 60s, however at age 30, Debra began having symptoms of valve failure which led to a repair and eventually replacement in 2016. Due to complications from her replacement, Debra expects yet another valve surgery in the future. These experiences led her to become involved with the AHA and join the Heart Valve Ambassador program to help elevate awareness about valvular heart disease.

Jen Hyde headshot

Meet Jen Hyde, Former AHA Heart Valve Ambassador and Founding Member

Jen was born with a congenital heart condition called Tetralogy of Fallot and had her first heart surgery at age 3. While traveling through China before beginning her first semester of a creative writing graduate program at New York University, Jen began to experience symptoms associated with heart valve disease. She had her second open heart surgery to replace her pulmonary valve in 2010.

 

Anthony DiLemme

Meet Anthony DiLemme, Former AHA Heart Valve Ambassador and Founding Member

Anthony DiLemme, a rock climber, a cyclist, a blogger, an avid volunteer and an enthusiastic high school science teacher is also is a two-time veteran of open heart valve replacement surgery. He says his life — his active lifestyle, growing up with a congenital heart defect, and even his summers working as a camp counselor — has been leading up to his newfound mission. “I feel as if I have been mentally preparing my whole life for this.” 

 

Bernie Oakes headshot

Meet Bernie Oakes, Former AHA Heart Valve Ambassador and Founding Member

Bernie has experienced heart valve disease firsthand. Bernie was diagnosed with high blood pressure in his 20s, and had triple bypass open heart surgery in 2005. In March 2014, Bernie began to experience symptoms that indicated he had a problem with his aortic valve. Bernie underwent a minimally invasive surgical procedure called transcatheter aortic valve replacement (TAVR), which uses a catheter to replace the heart valve instead of opening up the chest and completely removing the old, damaged valve.

Robert Epps headshot

Honoring Robert Epps, Former AHA Heart Valve Ambassador and Founding Member

Robert experienced heart valve disease firsthand. After many years of active duty in the U.S. Coast Guard, Robert noticed a concerning drop off in his energy and stamina. His cardiologist performed tests that revealed he had an aortic aneurysm, a leaky aortic valve (called aortic regurgitation) and a dilated left ventricle. Robert then underwent open heart surgery to replace his aortic valve with a mechanical valve. Later, Robert learned he had an aortic dissection, and had two additional surgeries to repair his heart. Sadly, Robert lost his battle in 2018, however we’ll always be grateful for his volunteerism and advocacy on raising awareness on this condition.

Former Heart Valve Ambassador Ray Rivera’s journey with heart valve disease