The Bionic Woman - Abi-Gaye Smythe shares her testimony
She has been shocked back to life on several occasions, was told that getting pregnant may not be an option, restricted from activities such as exercise and has been unfairly treated by people who selfishly thought she was seeking pity. Yet still, she rises.
Twenty-five-year-old Abi-Gaye Smythe was diagnosed six years ago with arrhythmogenic right ventricular dysplasia (ARVD), a rare and progressive disease that causes the right side of her heart to not work properly. Prior to her diagnosis, she was once told that she was perfectly fine and was only stressed.
"I was having signs and symptoms since age seven. They worsened as I got older. I was told by one doctor, after hearing my symptoms, that nothing was wrong with me, was told by another that I have an anxiety disorder, and told by another that it was stress. With ARVD, not only does the right side of my heart not work properly, but my right ventricular wall is thin, two of my valves are leaking, my heart is a little big and its beats too fast to the point where it can send me into cardiac arrest at any time."
Before her diagnosis, she could be seen everywhere doing everything, including performing, acting and dancing. But ultimately, that had to change as her family knew all too well what was at stake.
"I used to dance at church and had a dance crew in high school (Manchester High School). I also did theatre arts. I was voted most hyperactive in fifth form. My mom died when I was nine from a similar heart condition, and I was raised by my grandmother while Daddy worked to take care of me. I have five older brothers, so I am a tomboy, and I have a lot of cousins who I stuck close to. Being the youngest and only girl of my siblings, I was somewhat the rose among thorns. After diagnosis, everything changed, and family became even more concerned and caring."
Soon, Smythe became known as the superhuman, having to use an implantable cardioverter defibrillator (ICD), a device that literally shocks her heart back into working mode if it ever stops working.
"(The) first time, I was shocked five times back to back. Second time, I was shocked six times. Both times, my heart rate had escalated dangerously high, and I was close to going into cardiac arrest. In one instance, the shocks were so intense and jerked my body so hard that the wire from the battery that goes down in my heart shifted position and almost pierced my heart - and I was hospitalised for that."
Smythe said that following those two experiences, she had post-traumatic stress for weeks, but nothing quite prepared her for an encounter she had in a public-passenger vehicle.
"Another worse moment for me was being 'run' off a bus because I kindly asked for the music to be turned down as loud speakers affect my device and can allow it to malfunction or shock me, and the speakers in the bus were very loud and the bass extremely high. The driver and conductor, along with some passengers cursed me out, then stopped the bus and run mi out."
To date, she has done four surgeries: to implant the device, (to) push it further in when the body was rejecting it, to reposition the device, and just recently she had her fourth surgery done to adjust the mesh used in the previous surgery to hold the ICD in place.
With all the restrictions placed on her, Smythe said that she is not bitter, but grateful for the opportunity to learn life lessons and witness continuous blessings.
"I cannot consume certain foods, especially caffeine. I cannot be as active as I used to be - no exertion, no running, dancing, exercising, etc. Yes, even sex is a risk, getting pregnant may also be a risk. And while these are good for the heart, exertion speeds up the progression of my condition, making my heart deteriorate faster than it already will. I cannot be near loud speakers, drills, chainsaws, jackhammers, among other devices. My phone has to be kept at a certain distance from the device, and it may also trigger alarm."
She continued: "Living with this has taught me to be a patient, to pray more, to believe more, to increase my faith, to be strong and most important, to be grateful and appreciative of this gift of life! Having life and surviving all my surgeries and complications is my best gift and biggest blessing, to date."
Though her illness has slowed her down over the years, Smythe is happy for her support system of relatives, friends, social media family and finally be able to walk across the stage this coming Sunday to collect her bachelor's degree in mass communication at Northern Caribbean University.
Another of her accomplishments is starting her own foundation, 'The Abi-Gaye Smythe I Have A Heart Foundation, which aims to raise awareness for heart disease and offer support to other heart disease patients.