Strength through sisterhood

How a local support group inspired one woman to change her life

As a 27-year-old single mom of four children, a student at Indiana University Southeast and a pharmacy technician, De’Ara Porter’s heart health was not on her list of concerns.

But after the pharmacist she worked with saw her high blood pressure numbers and swollen legs, she encouraged Porter to see a physician fast. Her symptoms suggested she might have heart failure, a serious condition in which the heart is too weak or stiff to pump blood properly.

Porter went to the nearest emergency department but was told she was too young to have heart failure. She insisted that the ED staff run an echocardiogram and other tests. The results revealed her suspicions were correct — she had heart failure.

“I will never forget that day,” she said. “I just kept thinking, I’m not going to live to see my babies graduate. I’m not going to live to graduate. It was a life-changer.”

Porter met with Janet Smith, M.D., cardiologist with Norton Heart Specialists, who was upfront with her: Porter’s heart was functioning at just 38 percent. She had to make changes to her life now.

With Dr. Smith’s help, Porter started a low-sodium diet, began walking every day and went to a heart failure clinic for more care. Though she managed to improve her health, she felt heartbroken about her diagnosis.

Dr. Smith recognized Porter’s difficulties and suggested she attend a meeting of WomenHeart, a national support organization for women with heart disease.

“Like De’Ara, many patients find it difficult to face a heart disease diagnosis,” Dr. Smith said. “They are overwhelmed with the realization that they have a problem that may shorten or compromise the quality of their lives. They suddenly need to learn to take medications, follow dietary restrictions and compensate for their physical shortcomings. Patients need a support system to cope and make healthy changes to their lives.”

Porter became involved in the local WomenHeart group. After hearing her story, group leaders encouraged her to attend training at the Mayo Clinic to become a WomenHeart Champion.

During training, she met dozens of women who also have heart disease. She talked to physicians about the patient experience and received training on how to organize events.

“At WomenHeart, you are around other women who have the courage to share their stories,” Porter said. ”Just having that connection with another individual, or sisterhood, is so important. Now that I talk about my condition, it’s easier. Everyone’s story helps another individual.”

Porter also receives support at home, where her parents and sister help care for her children when she’s at school, work or doctors’ appointments.

“My parents are my support system,” she said. “I don’t think I could do everything without them.”

Porter’s experiences with Dr. Smith and WomenHeart have inspired her to work toward a new goal: becoming a cardiologist. As a WomenHeart Champion, she hopes to inspire other women to stand up for their health.

“Never be afraid to talk to your doctor,” she said. “Take a heart sister or family member with you. Always speak up because you can miss something and the doctor can miss some things, too.”

She especially hopes to work in African-American neighborhoods, like the one she grew up in.

“This disease doesn’t have a face,” she said. “You can be 27 or 87. You can be black or white. You can be a man or a woman. I want to get out there and spread the word.”

 

Looking for some heart sisters of your own?

Come to the next WomenHeart meeting and find support.

Feb. 16 • 6 to 7:30 p.m.

Marshall Women’s Health & Education Center

Norton Healthcare – St. Matthews campus

To register, call (502) 629-1234.


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