February is Heart Health Awareness month. Nearly 647,000 Americans die from heart disease each year, making it the leading cause of death in the United States. Heart disease causes 1 out of every 4 deaths in this country. Millions of people are literally fighting for their lives every day. Meet McKenna Lewis, a woman who is waging and winning her war against heart disease, which has taken the lives of family members and friends. An elementary school principal, read McKenna’s inspiring story of survival below:
I do not talk about my heart health journey often because I despise pity and I don’t see myself as frail, sick or impaired; I also don’t want anyone to assign those dispositions to me. I see myself as whole, healthy and healed!!!
My family has a history of heart disease. My dad, older brother and sister all lived and died with issues related to heart disease. My mom is a stroke survivor and works diligently to live a heart healthy life. I thought I escaped the heart disease gene; however at age 38, I was diagnosed with Chronic Heart Failure (CHF). Since then I have had several heart procedures, implantable cardioverter defibrillator (ICD) implantation and at one point my heart was struggling and I had a peripherally inserted central catheter (PICC) line pumping a medication that aided the pumping of my heart. Despite my grim prognosis, I simply did not accept it. I did not see myself as sick. Most days I didn’t feel sick and honestly it just was not cute.  (SMILE)
I had no idea how sick I was because my prayers were silly as I reflect. “God just let me be cute if I have to go though all of this.” I was in and out of the hospital. I went so often I just took a suitcase when I had certain symptoms. The lady at the registration desk said to me one time “ma’am this is not a hotel, ” to which I replied, “Ma’am you are a lie. This is chateau Washington Hospital Center (WHC). Tell them to get a room ready on the 4th floor NW Tower overlooking the heli-pad.” I knew the nurses by name.
On one visit my Dr. said that based on my ejection fracture  (EF) he was recommending me for heart transplantation. Folks it got real at that moment. “Sir I am not THAT sick.” (I am sure they thought I was CRAZY!!! My brain never processed or accepted my prognosis and instead of going with it I had a talk with my GOD!!! I researched and made lifestyle changes (walking daily, nutrition, rest). I also worked with my team at the Advanced Heart Failure Clinic at WHC. Welp, needless to say I was accepted for transplantation and then rejected based on improvement. I have been kicked out of better places.
I give GOD all of the glory and honor. So many people who had better prognoses than I did have died and I’m still here!!! Fast forward 11 years later. I have my dream job (elementary school principal) and I own a peloton –see y’all on the leaderboard –look for me at the bottom. I walk 3-5 miles daily and I have not been in the hospital for over 3 years. My doctor said he doesn’t know what to do with me because despite having heart disease I am doing better than the team expected.
I live around the corner from the new trauma hospital in my community and I am reminded daily that I am incredibly blessed!!! There are so many people that were and continue to be super supportive on my journey to better health. I thank you all for your encouragement, your prayers and your love. I hesitate to call names because so many people were so kind. The outpouring of prayers and love sustained me on the days that were tough.
Again, I don’t share this testimony for pity but simply because I want to celebrate my survivor story and encourage someone dealing with health challenges (physical or mental). Have faith, do your part and work with your medical team!


McKenna Lewis is principal of James H. Harrison Elementary School in Prince Georges County, MD. Follow McKenna on Twitter @@PrincipalJHHES.

This post was curated by Nsenga K. Burton, Ph.D., founder & editor-in-chief of The Burton Wire. Follow Nsenga on Twitter @Ntellectual.
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