At age 25, Cindy Washington and her heart have been through a lot: two cardiac arrests, the installation of a pacemaker and, most recently, the implantation of a left ventricular assist device (LVAD). But the Roxbury native says there’s one thing that has kept her heart going through all the hard times: love.
“From the amazing care team at the Brigham to my fiancé, mom, siblings and friends, I am so grateful for all the support I receive from them every day,” Washington said. “If it weren’t for these people in my life, I don’t know where I’d be today. Because of them, my heart is full of love.”
In 2011, Washington was diagnosed with dilated cardiomyopathy, a type of heart failure due to an enlarged heart that has an impaired ability to pump blood. Despite having an implantable defibrillator placed in her chest in 2014, her heart grew weaker. In 2016, she needed to have an LVAD implanted. The LVAD, a mechanical pump that supports heart function and blood flow in patients with heart failure, is a “bridge to transplant” as Washington awaits a donor heart.
On Valentine’s Day, Washington came back to BWH with her mom, Ann Washington, and fiancé, Darien Clark, to visit with members of her care team and thank them for all they’ve done for her and her family.
Ann, who saved her daughter’s life twice by performing CPR on Washington when she suffered the cardiac arrests, said she’s forever grateful for the incredible, compassionate care provided at BWH.
“I know Cindy might not be here today if it wasn’t for the extraordinary team of experts at the Brigham that has never given up on my daughter,” said Ann, as she wiped tears from her eyes.
‘A Special Patient’
After Washington first became sick, she had to drop out of college because she was too weak to attend classes and keep up with the workload. She became depressed and isolated from family and friends. Today, her life looks a lot different. She feels great and is taking online courses, with hopes of one day becoming a health policy lawyer. Washington said she’s gotten through the tough times because of her support system, both at the Brigham and at home, and by maintaining a positive outlook.
“Heart disease hasn’t beaten me yet,” Washington said. “I’ve always told myself that I’ve never had a broken heart; it’s just been a little sick. My will is strong, and I refuse to let anything get me down.”
Michael Givertz, MD, medical director of BWH’s Heart Transplant and Mechanical Circulatory Support Program, is a member of Washington’s care team. He described Washington as a “very special patient” who, from a young age, has remained hopeful, joyful and positive.
“Cindy is a shining example of a patient who is living life as fully as she can,” Givertz said. “She’s independent, strong and determined. She’s a true pleasure to care for, and I feel fortunate that I’ve had the opportunity to get to know Cindy and her family.”
Knowing that returning to school was important to Washington, Givertz wrote her a letter of recommendation for a college scholarship.
Another person who has been instrumental in Washington’s life is her fiancé, who has stood by her side through everything. Clark said he wouldn’t have it any other way. Although it has been difficult to see his loved one hurting, he knew they’d get through it – together.
“Cindy is my world,” Clark said. “She’s my valentine today and every day. We’ve overcome so many obstacles together, and I will never leave her side.”