Rhode Island Woman with Congenital Heart Defect is “I am CardioSmart” Honoree

Rudy Wilson Galdonik focuses on ‘personal best’ for fitness to live well with heart disease

Contact: Rachel Cagan, rcagan@acc.org, 202-375-6395

WASHINGTON (Feb 09, 2015) -

While her congenital heart defect is a significant aspect of her life, Rudy Wilson Galdonik refuses to let it define her.

“Growing up with a heart defect, I recognized that I had a choice,” said Galdonik. “I knew I couldn’t control my heart defect, but I knew I could control how I responded to it. It was then that I realized that I had to be my own best advocate to ensure I remained healthy.”

Galdonik is being recognized by the American College of Cardiology’s “I am CardioSmart” contest for her inspirational lifestyle change and her dedication to increasing awareness of heart disease to others. She is one of five heart disease patients being recognized by ACC during 2015 Heart Month.

In her youth, Galdonik was unable to run or participate in gym class because of her heart defect — a hole between the top two chambers of her heart. She learned to make adjustments, like purposely missing a kick in kickball to avoid running bases, in order to protect her heart but still fit in with her peers. She also learned to use humor, and at times some age-appropriate drama, to explain her condition to friends.

As an adult, however, she began to experience an increase in heart pounding and skipped heartbeats. At age 26, she had her first open-heart surgery. Doctors patched her atrial septal defect and repaired her mitral valve. Galdonik said that after the surgery, she was told that she was “cured.” In the years that followed, Galdonik married, and had two children and worked a full-time job.

Years after her first surgery — following a routine dental procedure in which she took precautionary antibiotics — she developed flu-like symptoms.  It took a month for doctors to diagnose her with endocarditis, an infection caused by bacteria in the heart. Following a successful antibiotic regimen, Galdonik began to experience cardiac failure.

“Twenty-two years of bad blood flow, coupled with endocarditis, had damaged my mitral and aortic valves requiring a second open-heart surgery to replace both valves,” said Galdonik. “Eventually, doctors also implanted a pacemaker.&rdquo

Today, because of Galdonik’s mechanical heart valves, she is regularly tested for blood clots and her pacemaker is monitored.

“I am also followed by the Boston Adult Congenital Heart Clinic at Boston’s Children’s Hospital,” said Galdonik. “This is because people born with serious congenital heart defects are now surviving well into adulthood. However, many of us still require lifelong follow-up care.&rdquo

Galdonik said, “I’ve learned that my health is my responsibility. I like to include daily visits to my local gym or ride my bicycle along Rhode Island’s coast. I don’t compare myself with the world’s standards for fitness. I just try to seek my own personal best for all my exercises.”

Galdonik takes her role as a person with a congenital heart defect and as a double, open-heart surgery survivor “to heart.” She now works as a professional speaker and writer on congenital heart defects and heart disease. She said that she uses humor to inform and motivate people to make changes in their lives especially when it comes to exercise and food’s impact on the heart.

“I marvel at how today’s cardiology and medical advances — coupled with a commitment to healthy life choices — have brought me this far in my life,” Galdonik said. “I am also very blessed to have two terrific children and a wonderful husband, and best of all, I am blessed to be able to share my story to uplift and encourage others.”

CardioSmart is the patient education and support program developed by the American College of Cardiology. Its mission is to engage, inform and empower patients to better prepare them to participate in their own care. In 2013, CardioSmart established the “I am CardioSmart” contest to find individuals who were living well with specific heart disease conditions: high blood pressure, heart failure, atrial fibrillation, previous heart attack, congenital heart defect or coronary artery disease, and showcase their stories to inspire other patients. www.cardiosmart.org, @CardioSmart, www.facebook.com/CardioSmart.

To read more about Rudy’s story, visit https://www.cardiosmart.org/Connect/Patient-Stories/Rudy-Wilson-Galdonik

Gerry Yumul of Victoria, MN was selected as the overall I am CardioSmart winner through voting on the CardioSmart Facebook page. Read his story on the CardioSmart website.

For more information on the symptoms and treatments for congenital heart defects, visit https://www.cardiosmart.org/Heart-Conditions/Congenital-Heart-Defects.

The American College of Cardiology is a 47,000-member medical society that is the professional home for the entire cardiovascular care team. The mission of the College is to transform cardiovascular care and to improve heart health. The ACC leads in the formation of health policy, standards and guidelines. The College operates national registries to measure and improve care, provides professional medical education, disseminates cardiovascular research and bestows credentials upon cardiovascular specialists who meet stringent qualifications. For more information, visit acc.org.

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