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WASHINGTON (Feb 07, 2017) -
A silent heart attack inspired Roxanne Watson to find her voice. After suffering what she thought was an “annoying pain” in her back for six weeks, Watson went to the emergency room to discover that she’d had a heart attack without even realizing it. That was the first salvo of a battle with heart disease that would eventually lead to a heart transplant. Because of Watson’s valiant fight for her health and her strong commitment to advocacy, the American College of Cardiology has recognized her in the “I am CardioSmart” contest.
In May 2006, Watson was unloading a truck at work when she felt a pain in her back.
“I thought I had pulled a muscle, so I went to my office, sat down and took an aspirin. When I felt a bit better, I drove home and thought little about returning to work every day for another six weeks,” she said. “The annoying pain did not go away, so I finally went to the emergency room at Nyack Hospital. After a few tests, I was told I had had a heart attack six weeks before in that truck. I was shocked. I had suffered a silent heart attack.”
Watson was immediately placed in cardiac care and began monthly—and sometimes weekly—visits to a local cardiac group for extensive care. Her heart health did not improve, so in 2008 she was sent to Montefiore Medical Center in New York for evaluation. After nine days of evaluation from 16 doctors, Watson heard another shocker: she needed a heart transplant.
Although Watson did not need a new heart immediately, her health did decline as she waited; in April 2010 she weighed just 95 pounds. At that point she was admitted to begin the final wait for a heart. After three mismatches, Watson’s new heart came to her on July 16, 2010.
Watson got back on her feet and started advocating for heart health just nine days after her surgery.
“I did my first public event for National Minority Organ Donor Awareness Week, and I was off and running,” she said “I found it useful to others and myself to share my story to help others. I started doing that everywhere: TV news, talk shows, newspapers, magazines—wherever I could share, I did.”
Her story soon reached the Oprah Winfrey Show, where she was invited to talk about transplants in minority communities on national television.
“Little did I know there was a surprise waiting,” she said. “Oprah had found my donor family. I had the honor to meet them on national TV. I discovered my hero was U.S. Coast Guard E3 Fireman Michael Blain Bovill, who passed in a motorcycle accident on the George Washington Bridge in New York City.”
Watson has traveled all over the U.S. and across the globe to tell her story. As a result of changing her diet to become more heart healthy, she returned to college after a 30-year absence to study nutrition at the State University of New York Rockland College Culinary Arts Program. Her busy schedule of coursework and volunteering leaves little time or energy for exercise, but Watson makes sure to fit in walks whenever she can.
Watson has also been involved with local advocacy efforts and patient organizations. She worked directly with New York Sen. David Carlucci on legislation to improve heart health and organ donation awareness and volunteers with Live On NY, WomenHeart and the United Network for Organ Sharing (UNOS).
CardioSmart is the patient education and support program developed by the ACC. Its mission is to engage, inform and empower patients to better prepare them to participate in their own care. In 2013, CardioSmart established a contest to find individuals who were living well with specific heart disease conditions: congenital heart defect, heart failure, atrial fibrillation, heart attack, coronary artery disease or stroke. Four finalists were chosen this year and their winning profiles were featured on CardioSmart’s Facebook page. A vote on the most inspirational story was held on Facebook.
Jacob Burris of Eugene, Oregon, was selected as the overall winner. The two other “I am CardioSmart” contest finalists are Philip Cartozian of Fresno, Calif., and Allison Jamison of Louisville, Ky.
To learn more about Roxanne’s story, visit www.cardiosmart.org/Connect/Patient-Stories/Roxanne-Watson.
To learn more about heart attacks, visit www.cardiosmart.org/Heart-Conditions/Heart-Attack.
The American College of Cardiology is a 52,000-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, offers cardiovascular accreditation to hospitals and institutions, provides professional medical education, disseminates cardiovascular research and bestows credentials upon cardiovascular specialists who meet stringent qualifications. For more, visit acc.org.