Heart & Stroke Survivors


The American Heart Association’s signature women’s initiative, Go Red for Women, is a comprehensive platform designed to increase women’s heart health awareness and serve as a catalyst for change to improve the lives of women globally. is year’s event is scheduled for November 8th at the Lexington Center.

Janet Craig, this year’s Chair of Lexington’s Go Red for Women event says, “Heart disease is a women’s common enemy. What I really like about Go Red is that it makes you part of a caring and supportive group and it gives you tools to help you recognize and prevent it. Heart disease doesn’t discriminate. All ages are affected." Meet the 8 local survivors that will walk the runway at the Go Red event on November 8th with their mothers, sisters and friends that supported them through their journey to a healthy heart.

Photos by Erica Lee

Photography Stories by Beth Langfels

Joyce Cantrell- supported by daughter in-law Stephanie

Joyce’s heart problems began in the 1980s with an irregular heartbeat. Since heart disease runs in her family, she was prepared when doctors wanted her to take heart medication. Heart catheterizations revealed that there was no blockage in her heart, but instead, the heart muscle itself was damaged.

In 2017, when even taking a few steps across a room left her out of breath, Joyce’s cardiologist tested her heart and said she was in congestive heart failure. When her doctor began surgery to insert a pacemaker and defibrillator, he saw her heart was in better shape than he initially thought. He decided to start her on the new medicine and external defibrillator. She had side effects, so her doctor decided again on an internal defibrillator.

The day after Christmas in 2017, Joyce’s defibrillator  kicked on after she had fallen asleep on the couch next to her grandson. Waking up and clutching her chest, she realized that the defibrillator had saved her life.

In January of 2018, Joyce’s doctor confirmed that her heart was damaged beyond repair. Joyce’s new heart became available a year ago in October. After transplant surgery and a rough recovery, she stabilized and three weeks later, she went home. After just a few complications, she is doing well today. She wants to share her story to encourage everyone to get checked, including women who may not think they are at risk for heart issues.


Joyce’s support system includes her son and his wife, Stephanie. They live within walking distance of one another, and Stephanie stayed at the hospital many times and supported Joyce through her ordeal. She is grateful to her family, cardiologists and her transplant coordinators, who all helped her become healthy again!

Tiara Wright- and "Mom" Wanda

Tiara was born into a difficult world. She was born with a very serious heart defect, having only a single functioning heart ventricle. Because of this, she needed open heart surgery just days after birth to save her life. She eventually had three surgeries but was not growing and thriving like other children her age.

In 2011, Tiara went to visit her great aunt, Wanda Smith, after a family reunion and they spent a few nights together. Within a few short months, Wanda and her husband, who had three grown children away in college, were asked to change their entire lives when both Tiara, age 5, and her younger brother, John David, age 2, were placed in their care permanently.

Today, Wanda is mom to both kids, after adopting them in 2015. Because of this, both children have been given a chance to live full, healthy lives. Now nearly 14-years-old and in middle school, Tiara’s early struggles have caused some delays, but none of this has stopped her from being a very active teenager who participates in dance competitions and volleyball.

Tiara is excited to participate in this year’s Go Red Experience with the American Heart Association. Wanda is so proud of her strength and courage overcoming many obstacles.


Wanda’s sudden change from great aunt to legal mother of two children who desperately needed a stable, healthy home life has never given her a moment’s regret. She knows how lucky they are that both Tiara and her little brother are thriving. Wanda said being able to raise the children has been a tremendous blessing in her, her husband, and their grown children’s lives. She has learned to appreciate even the simplest things.

Melanie Stivers- and her mom Nancy

"Being healthy puts a person in a privileged group, according to Melanie Stivers. Having a second chance at life helps you realize this truth.”

One evening in 2006, Melanie briefly lost consciousness, began vomiting and lost the ability to understand or express speech. In the ER, doctors unpacked terms like subarachnoid hemorrhage, which is bleeding caused by an abnormal bulge in a blood vessel, known commonly as a brain aneurysm. The bleeding could lead to brain damage or death.

A skilled surgeon saved Melanie’s life but four years into her recovery, a second brain aneurysm presented on the opposite side of her head. After an unplanned second date with Melanie’s brain surgeon, she found herself with new deficits and additional needs for physical, occupational and vision therapy.

"Being sick shows you who has your back. People carpooled our young sons while my vision prevented me from driving. They brought food and showed up for us in other powerful ways,” Melanie remembers. While a health crisis is not something she would choose, the important lessons she learned made her family who they are today.

"My stand and deliver moment is when I get to tell people how much health really matters. None of us can be bulletproof, but we can wear a vest with our choices: cardio, strength and flexibility training, nutrition, prioritizing personal sleep needs and managing stress. I get to be the truly rare person who twice survived a brain aneurysm and a person who knows for sure that health is a paramount privilege worth choosing,” says Melanie.


Melanie’s mother started a prayer chain and rallied her friends to support Melanie during this health crisis. She continues to be Melanie’s lifelong supporter and biggest fan.

Mary Sue Vicars- with friend and doctor Michael

Mary Sue Vicars is nearly 82-years-old and has had a long, eventful life. Fifty years ago, she had a car accident. While in the hospital recovering, a heart problem was detected along with her broken jaw. Her heart defect had been caused by rheumatic fever she had years before, yet her family doctor had failed to detect it. After heart surgery, Mary Sue went home to continue caring for her family and three young daughters at the time.

Though her heart continued beating strong for years, in 2006, she began having more issues that required heart surgery. Her surgeons replaced two valves, repaired the tricuspid, rerouted the maze and performed a bypass as well. These procedures put Mary Sue back on the road to health once again.

Eventually, Mary Sue had a pacemaker implanted and in February of 2019, she experienced exhaustion and shortness of breath. Doctors discovered a leaky mitral valve and she was scheduled for a much less evasive procedure to repair it. Again she was given a new lease on life. Mary Sue rested for one day and then returned to work!

Today, she is grateful to be healthy and alive and is awaiting the birth of her first great-grandson! She calls her surgeonsand doctors, as well as her family members, her biggest blessing.


Dr. Michael Schaeffer is Mary Sue’s cardiologist. He not only performed lifesaving procedures on her heart that saved her life but has also become a close friend. Mary Sue calls him her “angel sent from Heaven.”

Ebony Harrington-McLeod- with her children

Ebony’s heart story began when she was a full-time student at UK and working three jobs. She developed a sudden headache and nausea one evening after work. She went to bed, but when she awoke early the next morning, she looked in the mirror and noticed her vision was darker on the right side.

Ebony frantically called her parents and drove to her home, ten minutes away. Her mother ended up taking her to the hospital while Ebony worried about what may be wrong. Doctors in the emergency room diagnosed her with a blood clot behind her eyes. Ebony was unable to see. A very matter of fact doctor told her she would never be able to see again.

After a week in the hospital, doctors could not identify the cause of what ended up being a stroke. Additional tests showed that Ebony’s hearing was also damaged in one ear. Eventually, doctors determined she had an allergic reaction to estrogen and her birth control pills added to the levels, causing the stroke.

Sixteen years later, Ebony, who was told she could never have children, has given birth to three. She has adjusted to her blindness and hearing deficit, but will be on blood thinners for the remainder of her life. But today, she calls herself a “stroke warrior” and says it’s important to her to share her story with others so they may learn the signs and symptoms of stroke.


Ebony is a proud mom to the children that doctors never said she would have. They are her reason for moving forward, sharing her stroke story and living a healthy life. Her son, Mekhi (10) and daughter, Emory Victorian (4) appear with her in the photo. Her third and youngest child, Eden Victoria, passed away three years ago at the age of seven weeks.

Lisbon Hardy- and daughter Hallie

An irregular heartbeat doesn’t sound that serious. But Lisbon Hardy knows that this arrhythmia can totally devastate a life.

Years ago, when Lisbon’s son was planning to bring friends home from college for a Keeneland weekend, she was scrambling to make her home presentable for them. She put a lot ofpressure on herself to make it perfect and kept going by drinking a lot ofcoffee. While driving and running errands, she suddenly had to pull off to the side of the road, feeling like she had “an animal running wildly” on her chest. She decided to go immediately to the nearest emergency room where she was diagnosed with atrial fibrillation, or A-fib.

Medication seemed to work and kept it under control. But over time, Lisbon’s health was slowly getting worse. Eventually, she was diagnosed with atrial flutter and AV node re-entry tachycardia. She ended up having a cardiac ablation, but it didn’t fix her issues. A new doctor suggested a procedure to not only shock the heart to encourage regular rhythm but to follow up with medication designed to help it maintain its pace. She also had a pacemaker installed, but none of these treatments worked long term. A later second ablation was successful, but health issues caused her irregular heartbeat to return.

Today, she is living with A-fib but will not allow the condition to define her. She takes blood thinners and researches her options. She is sharing her story to encourage women to care for their hearts and health to relax, avoid striving for perfection and to enjoy life!


Lisbon's biggest supporter and one of her very best friends is her daughter, Hallie. Lisbon said her daughter inspires her to take care of her heart health and do what she can to live a longer, healthier life!

Kathy Crouch- supported by daughter Laura Beth

Like most women, Kathy Crouch wasn’t aware of any symptoms pointing to a heart problem. Three years ago, she changed doctors and was diagnosed with a heart murmur. Her doctor ordered an echocardiogram and it revealed she had multiple leaky valves, as well as an enlarged and damaged heart.

After being referred to a cardiologist, Kathy learned her condition was unusual. She had an MRI of her heart, whichshowed structural issues and a severely leaking mitral valve. Her doctor changed her medication to help slow her heart rate in hopes of delaying or avoiding surgery, but she began to feel exhausted and short of breath. Her heart was deteriorating and open-heart surgery was the only way to x it.

On January 10, 2019, Kathy had that surgery, which repaired the heart and valve damage. After a few painful days in intensive care, she began to recover rather quickly. Today, she is doing well!

Kathy said she feels grateful for this second chance and is blessed to have the support of family and friends, as well as medical professionals along herjourney. She is sharing her story to encourage others who are struggling with heart issues.


Laura Beth was Kathy’s last baby. Now 19-years-old, she was faced with the fear of losing her mother to heart disease when she was just 18. Kathy calls Laura Beth, who herself is very healthy, a blessing for the joy and support she provided her.

Sadie Taylor- and mother Bridgett

When Sadie Taylor was born in late 2013, her parents thought their newborn daughter was very healthy. But at just six months old, Sadie was diagnosed with a heart murmur. By the time she was two, her doctor had become more concerned.

At home, Sadie was growing tired easily and waking up at night sweating. Her mother took her to the doctor, who referred to a cardiologist. She was diagnosed with a congenital heart defect, coarctation of the aorta, when she was just three years old. Coarctation is a narrowing or pinching in the aorta. This condition forced Sadie’s heart to pump harder in order to push her blood through her heart. This caused abnormally high blood pressure on the left side of Sadie’s heart and arms and very low pressure in her legs.

Sadie’s cardiologist recommended a procedure to repair her heart. Sadie came through with flying colors. She was released and able to return home to Somerset within four days post-surgery.

Today Bridget says her daughter has so much energy that it’s hard to keep up with her! She just turned six years old and has no restrictions of any kind. She loves playing soccer and anything to do with art. A kindergartner this year, Sadie is homeschooled but enjoys time withher friends at church and the local gym.


Last year, Bridget attended a supportgroup and learned about the American Heart Association’s efforts in her community. She knew she wanted to raise money for this important cause but wasn’t sure what to do. After doing some research, she found an idea for a “kindness plate,” filled with a dozen homemade treats, to give as thank you gifts to people who donated to the AHA. Last year, Sadie made a video sharing her story on social media and ended up giving away 77 dozen cookies. Bridget said Sadie loves raising money for the AHA because they helped her get well so she can grow and play like a normal kid!