CLEWISTON — La’Shay Earley is an inspirational and remarkable young woman.
La’Shay has survived open heart surgery, after suffering heart failure, and is awaiting a lifesaving heart transplant. But she doesn’t let any of that stop her. Until she is able to receive her new heart, she’s on a mission to educate others about heart health and the importance of making healthy choices.
According to the American Heart Association, “Heart failure is very common. Although we have made progress in the treatment of many forms of heart disease, heart failure is a growing problem in the United States. Current estimates are that nearly 6.5 million Americans over the age of 20 have heart failure. One major study estimates there are 960,000 new heart failure cases annually. Not only is heart failure a major problem affecting many people, heart failure is also a major killer. Heart failure directly accounts for about 8.5% of all heart disease deaths in the United States. And, by some estimates heart failure actually contributes to about 36% of all cardiovascular disease deaths. One study notes that heart failure is mentioned in one in eight death certificates. Hospitalizations for heart failure are a huge burden on our healthcare system. In fact, it remains the number one cause of hospitalizations in our Medicare population.”
Heart failure is a condition in which the heart’s muscle gets injured and loses its ability to pump enough blood to supply the body. The heart can be affected in two ways, either become weak and unable to pump blood, or it becomes stiff and unable to fill with blood adequately. Both lead to retention of extra fluid or congestion, which is called congestive heart failure. Many people don’t even know they have it. Heart failure does not have an age limit. Anyone and everyone can be affected by it, and 28 year old La’Shay is on a mission to help others understand that.
“At first nothing really made me feel very connected to my community,” she explained. “But ever since my surgery, all I’ve ever thought about is spreading awareness about heart failure, and how we play a huge part in causing harm to our bodies. So, I started the first ever Heart Failure Awareness Walk in Clewiston, seven months after I had open heart surgery myself.”
Two years ago, after her surgery, her worried family grew even more concerned. Recovery was extremely difficult, as she had to learn how to walk again, go through speech therapy, and many of her memories had faded. Her spirits were down. She became self-conscious as heads turned to look at her, some staring, while she was relearning her steps and all geared up with her medical equipment. Her sisters encouraged her to get out and do something.
“I was so embarrassed at my situation because when I did learn to walk and gain strength in my body again, going out people would look at me funny and just stare. Which made me always want to hide inside. My sisters and I were talking and they thought I should speak out.”
What’s a typical day like for her? “A typical day for me is waking up, weighing myself, take my blood pressure and temperature, then medication. I eat and walk, constantly throughout the day,” she described. She also wears a ventricular assist device (aka VAD) 24/7 — an implanted mechanical pump that helps pump her blood, as her heart is unable to do so.
“I live with an LVAD (left ventricular assist device) with many limits. No water, no heights, horseback riding, no running, flipping, jumping. I can’t even get too excited. At night I power to the wall with what is called a wall unit. Yes, like a charger. During the day I power to batteries that last maybe 12 to 14 hours in the day, before I either change the batteries or power to wall for bed,” she explained.
So, she can never be left alone, carries a spare machine and batteries at all times, has to sleep near an outlet, and remain plugged in at night. She also takes action in spreading awareness and giving support to others who are experiencing heart conditions or facing open heart surgery. She spends a lot of her time encouraging people to seek regular checkups, educating them about the signs and symptoms of heart failure, providing information on healthy eating and exercise, and stressing the importance of regular screenings.
“I go to the hospital. I speak with patients that are about to have open heart surgery. Answer questions, lift spirits and try my hardest to give them peace in their decision,” said La’Shay.
Her mother and sisters have been trained on how to change out her batteries during the day, as they must be quick- La’Shay’s life depends on it. Her mother has gone through her savings and into debt to help LaShay pay for her medical expenses — bills that easily amount into the tens of thousands, and bills that continue to grow. LaShay, who had worked everyday since she graduated high school, had to leave her job.
They are a close family, all showing up in support of La’Shay, even during the interview for this story at Captain D’s. Her mother, Tracy, is the manager at Captain D’s in Belle Glade. “I haven’t missed a day of work, even with everything going on,” she said with pride. Without skipping a beat, and with a eternally optimistic smile, she has jumped in to help La’Shay pay her bills, drive her to and from her multiple weekly medical appointments, none of which are close by, and is always there to offer a strong, supportive shoulder for all five of her daughters to lean on.
When asked where her biggest inspiration comes from, La’Shay said, “My mom. All my life she balanced work and home, she made time for me my sisters and our brother. She is who I got my strength from. I don’t know anyone stronger then my mom.”
Her mother has been tasked with showing she has enough saved in her bank account to cover the cost of La’Shay’s prescription medications, like anti-rejection medications, and all the other expenses that will be incurred during recovery, before they can schedule the surgery. La’Shay will have to stay away from home, during and after surgery, which means her mother will have the responsibility of paying for two households while La’Shay recovers.
”People can donate, and help. Every cent of the donations will go toward medications my insurance may not cover, and gas for transportation to and from my doctors, and my temporary living arrangements. I will have to stay close to the transplant center, until I’m cleared to move back home. Any donations will help ease the load off my parents of trying to pay bills in two places. With the help of my City Commissioner Johnny Burroughs, I have a GoFundMe called “Give A Dollar For Heart” set up from last year,” she explained. She also said you can donate directly to her mother to help with all the current and upcoming expenses.
“I also find inspiration in church, in my family, watching the smiles on my nieces and nephews faces while they watch me get better, inspires me. I find inspiration in God, mostly because he’s given me strength I’ve never known, to keep fighting. I’m proud of myself. Of who I’ve become. How strong I am. I’m extremely proud of how far I’ve come and not once thinking of giving up,” said La’Shay, “But,” she explains, “knowing now all that I’ve done so far in my life, I would change my eating habits, poor choice in exercising, I’d pay attention to the signs my body gives to me. I’d speak up and say something.
“I’m asking the community to join me in this walk,” she said. “Anyone and everyone can join. The best way to contact me is through email: firstname.lastname@example.org or on Facebook @ Shay Antionette,” she said. She’s also designed fundraiser T-shirts for the walk, “Everyone can purchase a shirt. The shirts are $20, all sizes. They can either email me or write me on Facebook. I respond quickly.”
Last year, around 150 people attended La’Shay’s Inaugural Heart Failure Awareness Walk. This year they all hope to at least double that number. It will be held in Hendry County on June 6. The location is yet to be determined, but you can email La’Shay and she will be sending updates, as well as posting on Facebook. She is looking for any vendors, sponsors, and donors interested in helping make the walk a success. Feel free to contact her via email at Shayantionette1@icloud.com.