Maica Walker’s energy is irrepressible. The fast-talking financial advisor is quick to laugh or make a joke and has been known to spend three hours at the gym—happily. Another detail about Walker that is impossible to ignore: A scar running down the length of her sternum, the result of three open heart surgeries.
There was a time when she may have casually rested a hand on her chest or worn a high-necked shirt to hide the scar.
“I used to be kind of ashamed,” Walker said. “I didn’t want to show my scar for years. I felt like it made people see me as weak, and I didn’t talk about it much.”
But as she grew older, and her first surgery at age 10 turned into a second at 17 and a third at age 30, she began to view the scar in a different light. She recalled the time a stranger approached her and asked if she’d had open heart surgery. When she answered yes, the woman replied, “I have to have open heart surgery. And I’m looking at you, and you look so healthy. I’m not as nervous anymore.”
A typical childhood illness left unchecked led to Walker’s heart issues. Strep throat missed by her pediatrician turned into rheumatic fever, which advanced into rheumatic heart disease. It destroyed her mitral and aortic heart valves.
“When I had my first heart surgery, I was 10 and weighed about 47 pounds—50 at the most. I was pretty much skin and bones,” she said.
Walker had valve replacement surgery in 1985 at Texas Children’s Hospital, under the care of legendary heart surgeon Denton Cooley, M.D. Seven years later, on the verge of adulthood, Walker had outgrown the valves and underwent a second surgery by Cooley, this time at CHI St. Luke’s. And in 2004, doctors discovered cartilage had built up around the valves and replaced both.
“I always feel this rejuvenated energy when I come out of surgery. When you go under the knife, you really have to go in there preparing for that to be it,” Walker said.
Before her last surgery, she wrote notes to close friends and family that she left on her bed, in case she didn’t make it through the procedure.
“When I come out of it, I have all this urgency and energy toward trying to do everything,” she said. “Life is so short. We have this finite amount of time and we have to get everything done.”
That sense of urgency has compelled her to speak openly about her experiences and to give her time to the American Heart Association to raise awareness of heart-related issues.
“We only get one heart, and you have to really know how to take care of it and know the signs when something’s not right,” Walker said.
While she emphasized the seriousness of heart disease, she also said she wants people to know life can be just as full after open heart surgery.
“It doesn’t have to be a death sentence, or you walking around with a cane or in a wheelchair,” she said. “I do everything everybody else does.”
In a quiet room, the audible ticking of her valve replacements is a constant reminder of life after surgery. Sometimes other people notice. “What’s that noise?” they ask. As a kid, it embarrassed her. Now, the ticking and the scar are just a part of who she is.
“It’s a badge of honor. A warrior scar. You’ve been through some things,” she said. “Everybody has scars, it’s just that you can actually see mine.”
Baylor College of Medicine will be closed Monday, May 28 in observance of Memorial Day. https://t.co/6CNQMhyJ92
Baylor College of MedicineBaylorCollegeOfMedicine
Baylor College of Medicine will be closed Monday, May 28 in observance of Memorial Day.
TAMU Health Sciences@TAMHSC
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MD Anderson Cancer CenterMDAnderson
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6.1, 11:30 a.m.-1 p.m.: Join @MethodistHosp Cancer Center at St. John for a celebration and luncheon as we honor those living with a history of cancer. Register today: https://t.co/epZbgu9fA0 https://t.co/FLv19JSQs0
Today’s #VeteranOfTheDay is @USArmy Veteran M. Ross Kirk. https://t.co/Z1oqPWmWig
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Today’s #VeteranOfTheDay is Army Veteran M. Ross Kirk. Ross served for 28 years and retired in 1988. He attained the rank of lieutenant colonel. Ross served two tours in Vietnam with the 4/39th Infantry Battalion, the 9th Infantry Division and the 5th Special Forces Group with the Chaplain Corps. He was also a member of the 101st Airborne Division, the 18th Airborne Corps 1st Division, and the Green Beret Parachute Demonstration Team. He wore the Green Beret on active duty for nine years and is nicknamed the “Leapin’ Deacon” due to his 225 military jumps, including 50 HALO (high altitude, low opening) jumps and 450 sport parachute jumps. Ross’ positions in the Army included Command Chaplain for the Special Operations Command (Airborne) and Senior Chaplain of the Combined Peacekeeping Forces in the liberation of Grenada. He retired at Fort Riley, Kansas in 1988 and has lived with his wife Judy in Wakefield, Kansas for 27 years. They have four children, eight grandchildren and one great-grandchild. Ross was awarded four Bronze Stars, five Air Medals, the Meritorious Service Medal with three Oak Leaf Clusters, the Joint Service Commendation Medal, the Army Commendation Medal with two Oak Leaf Clusters, the Army Achievement Medal and the Good Conduct Medal. He also earned the Ranger Tab, the Special Forces Tab and Master Parachutist and Air Assault Badges. Thank you for your service, Ross!
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New research funded by Department of Defense grants will look into why some women with estrogen receptor-positive breast cancer develop resistance to endocrine therapies. https://t.co/TMhNyXWZ8Y
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Congratulations to M.D/Ph.D. student Muhammad Saad Shamim on becoming a 2018 fellow of the Paul & Daisy Soros Fellowships for New Americans program.
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