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Heads turned when Aries Merritt walked into the lobby at Mayo Clinic Hospital in Phoenix at 5 a.m. on Sept. 1, with family and TV cameras in tow. Just four days earlier, he won a bronze medal in the 110-meter hurdles at the 2015 World Championships in Beijing. But, on this day, facing one of his biggest hurdles, he was about to undergo a lifesaving kidney transplant.
In 1968, when I was just three months old, I was taken from my mother's arms and rushed into emergency surgery. My skin tone turned to a sky blue color, and the doctors caring for me knew they needed to act fast if they wanted to save me. They needed to get oxygen to my vital organs, because my heart was failing. The doctors did a temporary-fix surgery to improve my circulation and to buy them time in hopes that they would find a better solution. The surgery worked, but the question was: How long would it last? Later that day, my mother was given words that no mother wants to hear. "Take him home to die," the doctors told my mom. Four open-heart surgeries and 45 years later, I am still here, proving those doctors wrong. I am happy that through science and research, there are now medical devices and surgical techniques that are much more high-tech than what they had to work with 45 years ago. My gray hairs prove that I, a Tetralogy of Fallot baby, am still alive into my adulthood years.
Every year, Katie Ford, who works at Mayo Clinic's Florida campus, can be found with a plastic jar and a stack of donation envelopes, encouraging colleagues to support the activities of the American Heart Association. In particular, she urges them to sign up for the annual First Coast Heart Walk, which Mayo Clinic sponsors. Heart disease runs in Ford's family, which is why she's so passionate about supporting the cause and spreading the word about cardiovascular health. Although he was 74-years-old, Ford's father hadn't been to a doctor's office his entire adult life. When her mother was able to convince him it was time for a checkup, his doctors immediately identified issues. "The doctor found he was 75 percent blocked and said he was a ticking time bomb for a heart attack," Katie says. Her dad received a stent, and all was well for a number of years. However, his condition progressed, and he had a pacemaker and defibrillator installed in August 2014.
Three years had passed since Hollis Youngner, 34, had been diagnosed and treated for HER2+ breast cancer. So in late 2014, when the mother of one was "just feeling yucky, tired, nauseous," she says cancer wasn't even on her mind. "I was secretly excited, thinking of ways to tell everyone I was pregnant," she says. Unfortunately, a chest X-ray, prompted by a complaint of being short of breath, set in motion a series of events that ultimately resulted in a diagnosis of stage 4 metastatic breast cancer, a 45-minute CPR session, and questions about whether the young mom would even survive.