“When you have a chronic illness, you do everything you can to stay as healthy as you can, which includes getting a flu shot,” says Donnette Smith, president of the heart disease support network, Mended Hearts. Donnette leads Mended Hearts with a mission to inspire hope and improve the quality of life of heart patients, like herself, and their families.
“I was born with a heart disease called bicuspid aortic valve (BAV), in which the aortic valve that prevents the backflow of blood has two leaflets instead of three,” explained Donnette. However, it was not until she was 18-years-old that Donnette was diagnosed with a heart murmur during a physical screening. Later, in 1988, at the age of 41, she was diagnosed with BAV and had her valve replaced through heart catherization. “It has been a life-long journey, but I have learned a lot being with Mended Hearts.”
The Flu Can Be Dangerous
People with certain long-term medical conditions, such as heart disease, are at high risk of developing serious complications from flu. Complications of flu can include bacterial pneumonia, ear infections, sinus infections, dehydration, and worsening of chronic medical conditions, such as congestive heart failure, asthma, or diabetes. Donnette describes one time she was diagnosed with flu, “I experienced rapid heartbeat, had other symptoms, and was hospitalized with an IV. There was no room in the hospital, and I had to be placed in the chapel.” Donnette was able to recover from these flu complications, and today is vigilant in her flu prevention efforts—making sure to get her flu vaccine each year and encouraging others to do the same.
You Have the Power to Fight Flu
Donnette continues, “You look at the flu differently when you have an underlying health condition. I 1000% believe in the flu vaccine, and get my flu shot every year! I also make sure to wash my hands often, and avoid touching my face. If you have a congenital heart disease (CHD) or other chronic illness, you have to be more mindful of being around sick people. Furthermore, it is important you head to the doctor if you experience any signs of flu. [Taking these precautions] is like putting a protective barrier around your heart.”
Whether you have a congenital heart disease, like Donnette, other certain long-term medical conditions, or you have loved ones or care for someone with certain long-term medical conditions, it is very important to take steps to protect yourself and those around you.
- Get a flu vaccine. CDC recommends everyone 6 months and older get a flu vaccine every year. Flu shots are approved for use in people with medical conditions. Flu vaccination has been associated with fewer flu-related hospitalizations and complications in high risk groups.
- Take everyday preventive actions to help slow the spread of flu. Everyday actions, such as avoiding close contact with people who are sick and staying home when you are sick, also help protect you and others from flu.
- Take flu antiviral drugs if your doctor prescribes them. If you are at high risk of serious flu complications and develop flu symptoms, consult a health care provider. Antiviral drugs can make your illness milder, and make you feel better faster. They may also prevent serious health problems that can result from the flu. Treatment works best when started early (within 48 hours after symptoms start).
Take it from a Super Flu Fighter
Despite the challenges of CHD, and living through serious flu illness, Donnette Smith thrives. From leading Mended Hearts as President to volunteering at a local hospital, she stays busy. “I do as much as I can for as long as I can.” She will be celebrating a grandson’s 20th birthday in a few weeks, and celebrating her 70th birthday on Thanksgiving.
“Your health is up to you. Flu can be a dangerous illness, and it can take a toll on your body if you have certain chronic conditions. Know how to keep yourself healthy. Don’t be afraid to get a flu shot; it’s a great shield against flu.”