Heart transplant recipient Ovuke McCoy speaks at Heart Walk kick-off breakfast

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Ovuke Emonina McCoy poses for a photo Wednesday morning at Loft 212 in Cullman. (Christy Perry for The Cullman Tribune)

CULLMAN, Ala.  The American Heart Association and Cullman Regional held a kick-off breakfast Wednesday morning at Loft 212 for this year’s Heart Walk. The guest speaker for the breakfast was Ovuke Emonina McCoy, 44, of Birmingham.

McCoy, a stroke survivor and heart transplant recipient, shared her story of how the American Heart Associate has impacted her life. McCoy was diagnosed with hypertrophic cardiomyopathy and began seeing cardiologists when she was 9 years old. Hypertrophic cardiomyopathy is a disease in which the heart muscle becomes abnormally thick. There is no cure.

Her mother also had the disease and is a 24-year heat transplant survivor, but McCoy has lost two brothers to the disease. One brother passed at the age of 34 and the other passed in January at 28.

McCoy said, “It is more prevalent in African-American males.”

At age 28, McCoy’s doctors recommended she have an implantable cardiac defibrillator.

She thought, “No, I don’t want one of those. That’s for old people.”

She did get the defibrillator.

“I was living life and just doing things a young person would do,” said McCoy. “(I was) going on with my career and I participated with my church ministry. I was a praise dancer, but I was having issues with that and ended up having to get my defibrillator redone in 2013.”

She was doing well and following the recommendations of the American Heart Association. She was exercising and eating right. She also made sure to know her risk factors, her numbers and how to identify symptoms. 

McCoy was at work one afternoon at UAB in December 2016 when she recognized something wasn’t right.

She said, “It’s always good to know some of your risk factors and the America Heart Association has that information. I kind of felt something going up my arm and I thought, ‘I think I’m having a heart attack,’ and I couldn’t move.”

She was having a heart attack. She was hospitalized for five days.

In July 2017, McCoy suffered a stroke. She was in the cafeteria located above the emergency room at UAB, so she was able to get medical care quickly.

“How did I know I was having a stroke?” she asked. “I knew a good bit of the risk factors presented by an education that was provided by the American Heart Association. My face was numb, my sight was about to go away and I couldn’t speak.”

McCoy got married on New Year’s Eve 2017. Three weeks later, she went to a doctor’s appointment where doctors told her she was being put on the heart transplant list and the wait would be at least two years. McCoy began dealing with a buildup of fluid and was admitted to the hospital July 2, 2018 to have the fluid removed. She was expecting to have a simple procedure and be released in time for a vacation she had planned.

She was wrong.

On July 5, the surgeon informed McCoy that a donor heart had been found. She received her transplant that evening. Two days later, she was up and walking.

She is still up and walking and living her best life.

The American Heart Association is looking for teams and coaches to participate in this year’s Heart Walk. It is scheduled for 9 a.m. Saturday, Nov. 16 at Depot Park. There will be a 1K and a 5K walk and many ways for individuals and businesses to get involved. For more information, visit https://www2.heart.org. Online registration for the Cullman Heart Walk will be available soon.

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Christy Perry

christy@cullmantribune.com