A flutter in her chest followed by fear, surgery - and a walk for life

Heart surgery survivor and “heartwalker” Rose Shandrow of Lakewood.
Heart surgery survivor and “heartwalker” Rose Shandrow of Lakewood. Courtesy photo

On Saturday, as I have done almost every year for a decade, I will put on my walking shoes and join thousands of women, men and children at the South Sound Heart and Stroke Walk for the American Heart Association/American Stroke Association.

Over the years I have walked in solidarity with family members and friends who have battled heart disease. My mother in law passed away last October from a stroke. I will be walking to honor her memory and, for the first time, as a heart surgery survivor myself.

Earlier this year I was surprised by the news that I had a heart condition, which manifested itself during a meeting when I felt a sudden flutter in my chest, as if a bird were trying to escape.

After seeking immediate medical attention, I found out I had a mitral valve dysfunction. Heart valves determine the flow of blood through the heart, and the mitral valve is located between two of the heart’s four chambers.

When the cardiologist explained the severity of my condition and that surgery was the only option, I was shocked and I cried. It was my husband’s birthday, and I had to share this news on a day that should have been celebratory.

I was scared to face open heart surgery. Although I received encouraging words from family and friends, in the back of my mind I was facing my mortality. I was about to become a grandmother and I wondered if I would be around to see my grandchild grow.

The morning of the surgery was the hardest emotionally as I said goodbye to my husband and son, and placed my life in the hands of the surgical team.

It has now been five months since the surgery. Recovery was a slow process as I regained strength and controlled the pain, but the entire experience allowed me to reflect on the most important things in my life.

Best of all, thanks to lifesaving medical treatment, I lived to see the birth of my grandson and I expect to be around to watch him grow.

The American Heart Association says that about one of three people in the U.S. faces some form of cardiovascular disease, stroke or congenital heart condition.

I am one of those warriors faced with the emotional, physical and financial costs of heart disease and stroke.

One in three is why we must keep on “heartwalking” and funding research that lead to medical advancements.

I am so grateful for the joint efforts of the American Heart Association, my employer CHI Franciscan Health, and many others in the South Sound to raise awareness and fight cardiovascular disease and stroke.

The Heart and Stroke Walk is a day not only to remember those who are no longer with us but also to celebrate life.

Not only will I walk in memory of my mother in law, I will walk as a heart survivor to encourage people to seek immediate attention when they experience any signs of a heart problem.

Come and walk with us.

Rose Shandrow lives in Lakewood and works for CHI Franciscan Health in Tacoma. She participates in the Heart and Stroke Walk as part of her employer’s team. The event will be held Sept. 30 at Cheney Stadium to benefit the American Heart Association. To sign up, visit SouthSoundHeartWalk.org