At 41, Lakeisha Brown Had the Heart Of A 90-Year-Old

Courtesy of Lakeisha Brown

February is American Heart Health Month. Here’s what you need to know to take care of the vital organ, as heart disease is still the leading cause of death for Americans, men and women alike.

Lakeisha Brown started feeling poorly in January of 2018. The fact that she was having trouble breathing concerned her, but she assumed it was anxiety. Managing a household, raising four daughters, and running a catering business was a considerable load. She tried to shake it off, but the issue persisted. After three days of severe discomfort, she sought help. “I thought it was something minor,” Brown tells ESSENCE.

“I went to the urgent care clinic, and they then referred me to the first cardiologist that I saw,” she says. Expecting the issue to be resolved quickly, she called her supervisor and told her she should be in the office by lunch. However, the specialist presented Brown with shocking news. “He told me then that ‘You have the heart of a 90-year-old’ and that I was in congestive heart failure,” she recalls. The news didn’t fit with Brown’s picture of herself and her lifestyle. “I couldn’t believe it because I was 41, in the gym four times a week. I didn’t do dairy. I didn’t do meat. So, I was just like, why is this happening?”

“My heart function was at about 20 percent. I believe normal heart function is about 55,” she adds. “Later on, I found out that I was genetically predisposed. My maternal grandmother died from heart failure, which I didn’t know was a thing. I didn’t know that it could be passed down to you like that.”

According to a study published in the European Society of Cardiology, “Genetic contribution to heart failure is highly heterogeneous and complex. For any patient with a likely inherited heart failure syndrome, genetic counseling is recommended and important.”

Nevertheless, the doctor chose a treatment plan that did not treat the symptoms Brown was complaining about. “He prescribed medicines for water retention. They kept asking me about fluid, and I was like, I don’t have that. That wasn’t a sign for me. It was the heaviness on my chest,” she says. When the doctor told her to check back in every six months, she assumed the problem was not as pressing as he had previously suggested. She took his advice, stayed on the water pills, and moved forward. In May 2018, he changed his tone and recommended a pacemaker defibrillator. It gave her relief that something would be there “just in case.”

“I’m thinking it’s fine, I’m great,” she says. “I just went on with life. I went back to work, I went back to catering to my daughters, and it wasn’t until I was hospitalized again that I found the second cardiologist.”

As time passed, her heart function worsened. “It was to the point that my organs started to shut down and I didn’t know it,” she says. The second doctor treated her for water retention, but that did not have a great impact, just as the first doctor’s efforts weren’t effective. “I was still at about 20, 25 percent, something like that. It hadn’t improved in almost three years at that point.” A third cardiologist fell short in their treatment plan as well.

Another hospitalization prompted her to seek advice from loved ones. A childhood friend led her to an expert in another state who dealt with cases like hers regularly; she spent four hours on the phone trying to get an appointment with them, but it was worth it. “I didn’t know there was a difference between a cardiologist and a heart failure specialist,” says Brown.

He recommended the Abbott HeartMate 3 LVAD, a device that could potentially help improve her condition. It was a previously unexplored option that made a tremendous difference. Her improved heart function allowed her to get back to work on her catering business, LA Browns Baking and Catering, before she was even discharged because she felt that good.

Nowadays, Brown and her four daughters openly share their healthcare histories and treatment plans to support one another, knowing their genetic link to heart disease. They’re not paranoid, but they have learned to be proactive. “We do have open discussions about what’s going on,” she says. “It’s more organic, and I don’t feel like I’m having to, you know, shove it down their throat.”

She shares her experience publicly to save others from going through what she did. She recommends that people get a healthcare advocate, discuss the issues in their lineage, and listen to their bodies instead of assuming that persistent pains are just minor nuisances. “When you don’t feel right, don’t attribute it to stress; don’t think it’s just the kid’s soccer, or whatever you have going on, or issues in your relationship,” she says.

“Please, please go and get yourself checked out because it could be so many other underlying issues.”

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