5.7 million people in the United States are currently living with heart failure. Many of them will ultimately die from their condition unless they can get a potentially life-saving heart transplant. Even though heart failure is so prevalent, the initial signs of heart disease can be very vague, and some patients struggle to find the right diagnosis. Doctors say it is critical for patients to listen to their bodies, trust their instincts, and advocate for themselves.
June Walls knows this all too well and traveled more than 200 miles to come to Saint Luke's Mid America Heart Institute for her heart care.
"As soon as I walked into Saint Luke's, I had a sense of relief. I knew I was in the right place, I was finally being heard, and I was going to be taken care of," said Walls.
In early 2010, June Walls had chest pain and back pain for four days. She learned she had a mild heart attack and needed a heart catheterization. Luckily, she didn’t have any damage or tears. Her doctors in Arkansas at the time didn’t keep up with her heart or order more tests to make sure her heart was in good shape. When June raised concerns, he dismissed them as simply anxiety.
In August of 2010, her doctor gave her the okay to have dental surgery. However, following her surgery, June never felt like she got her energy back. Her fatigue worsened, and she continued to struggle with chest and back pain, sweating, and high blood pressure.
Despite her constant pain, she flew to New York for a wedding. While on her trip, she attributed her chest and back pain to always carrying her laptop on that side. When preparing to return home, she had severe pain, and her heart hurt. Even though she should have sought treatment in New York, she was in a hurry to get home, so she got on the plane and told herself she was okay. Her family recognized something was wrong, and her sister begged her to go to the hospital. June finally called her sister past midnight to take her to their local hospital.
“I was doubting myself even though I was having all the classic symptoms, especially when I had the massive one. I was throwing up, I had my jaw locked, my arm was numb,” Walls said.
June was then airlifted to another hospital in Arkansas. She had a massive heart attack and had two massive blood clots. It was a miracle she had survived to this point. The doctors placed a stent, and her heart was only operating at 20%. Concerned that her heart would never recover, she realized she needed more advanced care then she could find at home. A friend’s husband had received a new heart at Saint Luke’s Mid America Heart Institute and recommended June go there – so she started making her plans to travel to Kansas City. When June met with Saint Luke’s cardiologists, they immediately recognized she was very sick and immediately began taking steps to get her on the heart transplant list.
While June waited for the call that would bring her the news of her new heart, she told friend, family, and even her heart transplant coordinator that she was sure she would get her heart in June. On June 1st, she received the call that her new heart was waiting, and on June 2nd, she received her new heart.
Heart transplant recipients take the gift of a second chance at life very seriously and work to make the most of the new life they have been given. June is no exception. Since receiving her new heart, June has gone on to continue to follow her passions. Including becoming an accomplished artist and actress, including being cast in a movie trilogy.
“We still, in this day, think that women don't have heart disease. That's one of the messages that needs to get out there,” Dr. Andrew Kao, one of June's cardiologist at Saint Luke's Mid America Heart Institute to KMBC.