Medical technology is always evolving, enabling today’s doctors to do things their predecessors only hoped would be possible.
Knowing that more breakthroughs are always in development helps, too.
Just ask Nina Linder, a mother to two children that doctors originally feared she’d never be able to have.
Nina was born with aortic valve stenosis, a condition in which a heart valve does not properly open and close.
She grew up knowing that she would eventually need surgery to replace her faulty valve with a mechanical version. While this would allow her heart to finally work properly, she also would being a lifelong regimen of blood thinners; this would make childbirth risky.
She had no choice but to accept this fate. She also had plenty of reminders. Each summer, Nina went to Children’s Memorial Hospital in Chicago for doctors to monitor her condition as part of a research group.
She was a preteen when she underwent her first cardiac catheterization. She had at least five more before going to the University of Evansville on a swimming scholarship.
She was 20 when a doctor told Nina it was time to replace her faulty valve.
Following finals at the end of her sophomore year, Nina checked into the hospital.
In preparation for the replacement procedure, Nina underwent another cardiac catheterization so her doctor could confirm the size of valve he’d need.
Instead, he came away recommending that they delay the operation.
“They told me that they felt they were on the cusp of important new technology,” Nina said. “They thought if I could wait another six months, they would have more options.”
Actually, she made it another 10 years.
Nina stayed active and tried keeping her heart healthy. Eventually, it wasn’t enough. She found herself avoiding stairs in favor of the elevator. She had more fatigue, too.
She finally accepted that it was time to see the cardiologist.
Initial tests showed her heart was fine. Things changed within a month, with Nina’s skin sometimes turning blue from lack of oxygen.
On Dec. 3, 1998, just a few weeks after turning 30, Nina finally got a new heart valve.
Only, it wasn’t mechanical.
The cardiologist Nina had seen as a college student was right. Technological advances allowed doctors to give her a heart valve from a cadaver.
This meant she wouldn’t need blood thinners. And she would be able to have children.
She married Jason Linder a few months later. Daughter Kara arrived about 18 months after her surgery, and a son, Luke, followed two years later.
The family also stays active by hiking and biking. She makes sure they follow a heart-healthy diet.
“I’m living the dream that I never thought possible,” she said.
In 2011, Nina began volunteering for the American Heart Association, the organization that funds more cardiovascular research than any organization outside the federal government.
The AHA has invested in excess of $3.7 billion, including more than $100 million annually since 1996. The organization has funded research by 13 Nobel Prize winners and has been part of many lifesaving advancements such as the first artificial heart valve, cholesterol-inhibiting drugs, heart transplantation, and CPR techniques and guidelines.
Nina has served on her local chapter board. She also speaks in her community to raise awareness about the organization and heart health.
Doctors told Nina that her replacement heart valve would likely last 5 to 15 years, a time frame she’s already exceeded. She can tell her valve is starting to wear out, but manages it by getting plenty of rest.
“I know I have to have heart surgery again,” she said. “I want people to donate to the AHA and fund research to find cures for heart issues so that I, and others, can continue to have options.”
Photos courtesy of Nina Linder
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