The weeks since May 17 have been anxious ones for my family.
On that date my niece, Michelle Mitchell Smith of Houston, Texas, underwent surgery to receive an artificial heart.
She is doing great now – at home, healing, regaining her strength and making adjustments to the tremendous changes the mechanical heart is making in her life.
Adjusting to new health circumstances is nothing new for Michelle.
Like many other individuals with chronic, life-threatening health conditions, Michelle exists in a different reality than many of us.
She has lived with a failing heart for about two decades as a result of cardiomyopathy. It is the same illness that claimed her father, two others of my brothers, two of my sisters and my mother.
I see Michelle as a hero, though, in the way she lives with her situation. Anyone meeting her would never know she is sick, both because of her appearance and her behavior.
She graduated from Alcorn State University with a degree in fashion merchandising, an extension of her unique and creative clothing style. People who knew my mother say they see my mother’s avant garde fashion sense in Michelle, with her trendsetting ways.
As far as her behavior goes, Michelle seems to have a philosophy to make each day a productive one. Her sister Faye laughingly calls it her obsessive-compulsive complex.
Many times our family members worry that Michelle might overdo, but her doctors tell her to do as much as she feels she can. In fact, the day after her surgery she lay with her chest open for another 24 hours before they stitched her up. A week later the doctors had her out of bed and walking the halls.
Not only does Michelle cooperate with her health care providers to achieve the highest quality of life possible, she has become her own health care advocate: She participates in support groups to learn what she must do for herself and to lend her support to others; she learns about each of the medications prescribed for her to recognize if any changes in how she feels might be medication side effects; and more.
When Michelle moved to Houston after college, she became a true Texas cowgirl, riding horses and going on trail rides and to rodeos with her riding club. When her health would no longer allow her to ride, she went with the group in a trailer, still supporting the club with her sewing skills and in other ways. She continues to volunteer, remains civically active and is a loving mother and grandmother.
I share this story of my niece’s health condition to encourage others. Perhaps they’re not coping with the same illness, but need to hear that there are others who face health challenges every day, yet manage to live fulfilling lives with grace and optimism.
I also share this story to urge anyone with a family history of heart disease to put the Weston Reed Cardiovascular Conference on your calendar.
The free conference is planned for Aug. 14, and includes a variety of free health screenings as well as free classes for CPR certification and how to use an automated external defibrillator. First held in 2008, the conference was founded in honor of Weston Reed, an 11-year-old boy who suffered sudden cardiac death in August 2007 while on the soccer field.
Screenings include electrocardiograms, echocardiograms, lipid profiles for cholesterol, blood pressure and ankle brachial index to measure blood pressure in the legs, and body mass index.
It has taken years of prayers and other support to Michelle and our entire family to bring her to this current state of grace.
It’s my prayer that others will be sustained in their struggle by the information provided here.
Lena Mitchell is the Daily Journal Corinth Bureau reporter. Contact her at (662) 287-9822 or firstname.lastname@example.org
Lena Mitchell/NEMS Daily Journal