Heart Failure Personal Stories

Updated:Feb 13,2018
Read Queen's and Rita's heart failure stories

Managing heart failure (HF) can be a daunting task, but you have every reason to be hopeful. Real patients share their experiences.

AHA's Heart Failure Ambassadors

Meet our ambassadors

This inaugural group of volunteer ambassadors includes six heart failure patients and one caregiver from across the country who represent the face of heart failure in America and show that it can affect people of different ages, backgrounds and lifestyles. These ambassadors will serve as leaders in the community and will work with us to raise awareness about heart failure and share available resources for patients and families. Learn more about them here and be sure to connect with them on our Support Network.

Kim and ShaunMeet Kim Ketter and Shaun Rivers, AHA Heart Failure Ambassadors

ER nurse Kim Ketter had been feeling exhausted and short of breath for months, but it wasn’t until one day when she suffered heart palpitations at work that she decided to see a doctor about her symptoms. Her diagnosis of cardiomyopathy and HF came as a surprise. When she learned her condition may be genetic, Kim knew that her twin sister and fellow nurse, Shaun Rivers, could also be at risk for HF, so she suggested Shaun see her doctor and get tested as well. The results from Shaun’s stress test indicated that she also had HF.

As ambassadors, Kim and Shaun are sharing their story to provide hope and support for people affected by HF.

Contact Kim and Shaun on the Support Network.

AimeeMeet Aimee Rodriguez-Zepeda, AHA Heart Failure Ambassador

A mother of three from Woodbridge, Virginia, who survived cancer and was diagnosed with cardiomyopathy and heart failure. Aimee was also determined not to let her CHF diagnosis stop her from pursuing her passion: motorcycle riding. Last spring, she organized a charity ride in her hometown of Woodbridge, Va. to raise awareness about HF in conjunction with the AHA.

As an ambassador, Aimee is committed to raising awareness and providing encouragement for others dealing with HF.

Contact Aimee on the Support Network.

Jang Meet Jang Jaswal, AHA Heart Failure Ambassador

This San Francisco resident had his first heart attack in his mid-30s. After living with heart failure for many years, he received a heart transplant in 2013.

“Ever since, I’ve been doing great. Today is better than yesterday.”

Contact Jang on the Support Network.

James YoungMeet James Young, AHA Heart Failure Ambassador

Poor lifestyle choices and reluctance to get medical attention nearly cost James Young, II, his life. After struggling with heart failure, the graphic designer from Detroit, Michigan, now puts a priority on his health, taking charge of risk factors he can control. 

Today, James is sharing his story with others through the Support Network, motivated by not only his experience but also the loss of his father, who died from complications of congestive heart failure and type 2 diabetes in 2014.

Contact James on the Support Network.

Mike and Beth O'Meara, Former AHA Heart Failure Ambassadors

Mike and Beth O'MearaIt’s with a heavy heart that we report Mike has passed away. He always faced his challenges with a big smile and a lot of optimism and that’s how Beth hopes we’ll all remember him – and live life fully in tribute to him.

As ambassadors, Mike and Beth shared their story to emphasize the critical role caregivers can play in helping HF patients rise above their disease. Watch their video below.


Jenn was told she had a year to live...14 years ago. Heart failure can slow patients, but it doesn't have to stop them. Just ask Jenn Schaeffer, who once feared she wouldn't see her baby turn 1. Read her story or watch her video.
An inspiring heart failure story from a patient and grandmother. Sara has risen above heart failure with high-tech and high-touch management of her condition and is now living healthy! How strength, family, hope and healthcare innovations can lead to a better life for anyone with heart failure. Read her story or watch her video.
Building a new life after congestive heart failure

The flu. That’s what Nicole Smith thought was bothering her. She figured she would visit the ER, get a prescription and head back to work. Doctors found something else: congestive heart failure and an enlarged heart. Her cardiologist also mentioned she may need a heart transplant. “It took me a long time to be brave enough to share my story, but I have so many great ideas to help the community.”

Nicole Smith
Mother of 8 who collapsed in church warns others: ‘Heart disease doesn’t look like anything’

That frightening Sunday morning of June 9, 2013, caused Cynthia Essex to make some lifestyle changes. “Life is too precious to do nothing, so I’ve told my story everywhere I’m invited. … My message is hope.”

Cynthia Essex
Todd Cunningham

What Todd thought were normal signs of aging were actually symptoms of advanced heart failure, and he'd need a new heart. He recently finished cardiac rehabilitation to rebuild stamina and strength, and these days he keeps busy managing dozens of daily medications and working out with a personal trainer. He continues to watch his diet, focusing on heart-healthy foods and limiting his sodium intake.

Todd Cunningham

Heart Failure

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