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Abi-Gaye Smythe is not your average 25 year old. From battling a heart disease since the age of seven to almost not finishing University, she has overcome tremendous odds to be where she is today. Abi-Gaye lives with Arrhythmogenic Right Ventricular Dysplasia, ARVD for short. It is a rare and progressive disease.
A diagnosis of ARVD essentially means that the right side of Abi’s heart does not function as it should. The right ventricular wall is thinner and her heart is slightly bigger than it should be. She has two leaking valves which can cause her heart to race to the point where it can send her into cardiac arrest at any time. Since her diagnosis, Abi has been wearing an Implantable Cardioverter Defibrillator, which monitors every heartbeat and corrects irregular heartbeats.
“I can’t be as active as I would want to be. I can’t do anything for my heart to race, so there’s no running, no dancing and no sports at all. Even having children might be risky”, she said.
University was arduous to Abi-Gaye, proving far more challenging than it should be for any young adult. In between having to do four major surgeries and constantly being hospitalized, Abi’s four year degree programme turned into a seven year journey as she had to sit out at least four semesters.
“My heart condition kinda held me back, having to do surgeries and stuff like that, being hospitalized often. At one point me did legit seh mi a guh jus stop guh a school and guh sell bag juice and star dung a di stop light a Mandeville; I wanted to give up”, she recalls.
In 2013 Abi-Gaye started the ‘I Have A Heart’ Foundation which aims to raise awareness on heart disease. According to the Heart Foundation of Jamaica, over 6000 persons die per year in Jamaica from heart disease. She says her long term goal is to help source financial support for persons with heart diseases and to form support groups. She also has plans to do more to raise awareness of heart diseases including a school tour and more public education work through social media.
“Living with a heart disease is challenging; it’s scary and it’s costly. It’s very expensive and not a lot of people can afford the necessary treatment. My first initial surgery to implant the device, was $15,500.00 US Dollars on a special discounted price. Now, it’s probably like $30,000 – $35,000 US Dollars. For the surgery itself, it can cost you up to Two Hundred Thousand Dollars ($200,000) Jamaican, depends.” Abi explains.
Despite her challenges, Abi-Gaye graduated from the Northern Caribbean University on August 12, 2018 with a Bachelor’s Degree in Arts and Communication. Her C’s and D’s turned into A’s and B’s and she also made it on the Dean’s List. She has been working at the Jamaica News Network (JNN) as a Producer, Presenter and Reporter for over a year.
Abi – Gaye continues to live because of the fear of dying young.
“I just tell myself that it could have been worse and there are people out there going through way worse than me. One drive that I have , like somebody asked me the other day and they might find it weird like where I get my strength and my drive from and I tell them that it’s fear. I have a fear of dying young so I fight to live every single day.”
For more information on the ‘I Have A Heart’ Foundation visit i2haveaheart on Instagram.
In the meantime, the government, through the cardiac centre, funded by Chain of Hope, is ensuring that fewer children die of or suffer from heart diseases. The centre is located at the Bustamante Hospital for Children. Minster of Health Dr. Tufton says equipment has been procured and installation is scheduled to begin on September 3 with the opening planned for year end.
-By Shantole Thompson