Heart Health

Woman’s Hard Work Brings Heart Back To Life

Doctors told her she would likely have to live with a device inside her heart to keep her alive after a massive heart attack at 29. Her hard work proved them wrong.

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A North Texas woman has become what doctors say is a medical miracle.

She suffered a massive heart attack that severely damaged her heart at the age of 29.

Now, less than a year later and despite the odds, she's made a full recovery.

"Very quickly, I knew that something was wrong with my heart. I was feeling shortness of breathe, pain in my jaw, in the shoulders. I was sweating. I was dizzy," said Heather Hooper, as she described her symptoms of the heart attack she suffered earlier this year.

Hooper was rushed into surgery, where doctors found that the heart defect she had lived with all her life had been, unknowingly, destroying her heart. The left side was filled with blood clots and doctors told her that her heart wasn't coming back.

They implanted a left ventricular assisted device, or LVAD, that would pump her heart for her and keep her alive until she received a heart transplant.

"I had mentally prepared that I was going to have to have open heart surgery one way or another and it was likely going to be a transplant. That's what it is for most LVAD patients and my God, I lived through everything. There is no way I could be some exception to this rule," Hooper said.

With an LVAD in place, Hooper started cardiac rehab, where her real story begins.

For months, Hooper grueled through exercises that pushed her physically and mentally.

Once she hit small goals, like walking without losing her breath, she moved on to bigger goals.

"Slowly, but surely, I started boxing and doing planks and battle ropes and these things, to be totally honest, even though as an athlete when I was a kid, I probably wouldn't have been doing as an adult," Hooper said.

"Together as a team, we found the right regimen as we had her day after day, learning how to push her beyond what she felt her limits were," exercise physiologist Tiffany Shock said.

The hard work paid off in a way that shocked Hooper and her doctors.

Tests began to show her heart was bouncing back, eventually becoming so strong, doctors told her she didn't need the LVAD anymore.

"I just looked at him like, 'What?'" Hooper said. "The heart that had been stunned by a massive heart attack, the heart that had gone through two open heart surgeries, this heart in my body that was now being assisted by a medical device to just help me live, was showing signs that it was fighting to come back."

In the same year as her heart attack, doctors said Hooper became part of the 1% of LVAD patients in country who get the device removed.

"I would say this is a pretty lucky story," said Baylor Scott & White cardiac surgeon Dr. Aldo Rafael.

Rafael had to custom build a plug that filled the giant hole left behind in Hooper's heart after they removed the LVAD.

Now, a few months later, she said she feels better than ever.

"People use the word miraculous or miracle loosely, but it's not until you live it that you realize that for some reason, you have more work to do here," said Hooper, who became just the second patient at Baylor's heart program to have an LVAD removed.

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