Most women spend the days after childbirth celebrating new life. P.J. Boren spent those days fighting for hers.
P.J. Rossi Boren wasn’t expected to live through the night following the birth of her first son. Her first waking moments were spent surrounded by doctors informing her that her heart rate was ‘slowing down’ to 310 beats per minute. Instead of embracing motherhood with her newborn, P.J. was placed in ICU, unsure if she would live to spend another day with her family. Her husband, Randy, was told, “I’m sorry, there’s nothing else we can do for her.”
Between sneaking out of ICU to see her new baby and discussing how her life insurance policy would be accessed, P.J. found herself praying each night for just one more day with her family. Her diagnoses were an atrial flutter and atrial fibrillation—heart diseases for which there are no cure. Miraculously, P.J.’s heart reverted to a somewhat regular heart rate four days later. However, P.J.’s heart will never be restored to full health.
“I was just trying to have a baby,” says P.J. “I had no idea that potentially all of this could happen, because I wasn’t in the heart disease category. I wasn’t overweight, I was young and I was healthy. It never crossed my mind that it would be an issue for me.”
Nearly 4 years later, after the birth of her second son, P.J. experienced an audible rattle in her chest and was unable to catch her breath. She drove herself to the hospital early one morning to what would result in a diagnosis of congestive heart failure and cardiomyopathy. “By the time I got there, my kidneys started to shut down, my lungs were filled with fluid and my heart was only beating at about 18% its capacity,” says P.J. “I was in stage four heart failure and there’s not a stage five.”
For the second time, doctors told P.J. that she would either respond positively to the medications, or there was nothing more they could do for her. Eight years and eight cardiac procedures later, P.J. now has a bi-ventribular pacemaker with an internal cardioverter defibrillator (Bi-V/ICD) keeping her alive.
P.J. is an American Heart Association volunteer and advocacy leader, who shares her story at many AHA events. “The message to drive home is that we really need to take [heart health] seriously,” says P.J. “It’s not an easy message to parlay into true awareness, but it’s time for us to take better care of ourselves.
When asked how soon a woman should start getting her heart checked, P.J.’s response is, “Well, what time is it? There’s no bad time to have your heart checked. Baseline for me would be between 18 and 20 years old.” The American Heart Association advises that if you have a family history of heart complications, you should have your heart checked immediately.
One in three American women will suffer from heart disease in their lifetime. “Think about your mom, your sister and friend,” says P.J. “Pick one—one won’t make it. That’s the chilling, unbelievable, mind-blowing fact that we should be beating our drum to every single day. I’m a normal person. I’m a wife, daughter, sister, mom, friend and aunt. I’m so much like you.”
“I’m battling the disease with everything I’ve got so I can see my children graduate high school, maybe even college,” says P.J. “An important thing is to get to children early by teaching them good eating habits, exercise, not smoking and taking care of themselves.” P.J. reiterates the importance of empowering women to take care of themselves, as well. “Knowledge really is power. Early detection is paramount in combatting any disease.”
P.J. actively raises awareness for the American Heart Association. Since 2004, P.J.’s participation in the Birmingham Heart Walk heavily depends on her level of strength and if she is permitted to do so by physicians. P.J. will be walking this year with her team, P.J.’s Cardiac Crew. “Even if they have to carry me over the line, I’ll complete the walk this year,” says P.J.
Join P.J., The American Heart Association, and thousands of other advocates at the Birmingham Heart Walk, this Saturday, June 30. The event opens at 7:30 a.m. and the walk will begin at 9:00 a.m. in Linn Park.
By Sloane Hudson
To learn more about P.J. Rossi Boren’s heart journey, click here.
To learn more about the Birmingham Heart Walk, click here.
This article written and brought to you by BirminghamDoctors.com.