Episode 19

After five open-heart surgeries and a heart transplant, Mallory Streacker is now a body builder. -19

Mallory Streacker, a professional body builder and currently studying exercise science, was born with a tricuspid defect called Epstein Anomoly. She had her first open heart surgery at 12 years old which caused serious depression for her. Then, at 16 years old, she had another valve replacement as well as a bypass to reroute blood flow to reduce pressure on the right ventricle. At 25 years old, she went into atrial flutter which put her in end stage heart failure. It was then she had open heart surgeries 3 and 4. At 30 years old, her heart took up 75% of her chest cavity and she was admitted to Cleveland Clinic and put in IV meds to keep her alive. There, she had her 5th open heart surgery to transplant a RVAD. 3 days later, she got a new heart.

After such a series of events, Mallory had two choices: feel sorry for herself or become a body builder. She is now thriving as a body builder and is in school for exercise science. She is also acutely aware of the importance of nutrition in her healing journey.

Boots asks her pointed questions about the physical, mental and spiritual impacts this path has had on her and Mallory is raw and real in her answers.

Mallory and Boots also talk about how they met through WomenHeart and their new roles as Heart Champions.


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Hello and welcome to the Heart Chamber. I am your host, boots Knighton. Wow. We are coming up to the end of season one. Today is episode 19. We've got one more episode to go. So I want to encourage you to quickly go over and hit the subscribe button.

So that way you know when I come out with season two, which will likely be early in the fall. Also, you can find me at the heart chamber podcast.com or on Instagram at the Heart Chamber Podcast. But let's talk about today's guest. I interview Mallory Streaker. Mallory and I recently met through an incredible organization we both just joined called Women Heart.

We both are now heart champions. I was so inspired by her story that I reached out to her and asked her to be a guest, and she said yes. I am so excited for us to hear from Mallory today. She is a six time open heart surgery survivor and thriver, she has a new heart. Mallory was born with tricuspid defect called Epstein Anomaly.

It is truly amazing what she is doing with her body now, post-op, open heart surgery, and I think you're gonna find her story. So inspiring. So thank you so much again for joining me today. And again, don't forget to hit that subscribe button. All right, let's get to it.

Suzanne Boots Knighton: Mallory, thank you for coming on the heart chamber for episode 19, season one. us are you from?

Mallory: I am from Ohio near Cleveland, which is very lucky because the Cleveland Clinic is a top heart transplant place.

Suzanne Boots Knighton: Yes, yes, you are lucky. and for listeners, uh, I Mallory through Women Heart and Mallory and I just went through this incredible symposium where we had to apply to become heart champions, and that was quite the application. We had to have an interview. and then we got accepted and got to go through this training together on how to be heart champions for Women Heart.

And if you haven't heard of Women Heart, please check them out. It's the only patient run organization in the United States for women with heart disease. am I missing anything there, Mallory? I'm still working on my stump speech.

Mallory: Um, I don't think so. It was a really great training, a lot of really powerful stories from women all over the country. you know, we got to speak with some cardiologists and, and other professionals as well, so yeah, it was, it was a great program. Highly recommend.

Suzanne Boots Knighton: Yeah, I called it the mini med school


there were so many like neat things that we learned and I went to the Mayo Clinic last summer and Dr. Patricia Best, who is amazing, she did part of our training. She actually did. My heart cath last summer and I didn't know I could laugh so much while having a wire inserted into my heart. it was pretty amazing. So Mallory really piqued my curiosity when in the training, uh, she was sharing her story and she likes to describe herself as having a congenital heart. Difference instead of a congenital heart defect. And like, I need to talk to this lady because I have found, at least for myself and my heart journey. The self-talk piece, particularly at the beginning, was really, I mean, I really trash talked myself and just saw myself as defective broken and not worthy cuz I hadn't been born right. And I, I just really appreciated Mallory's point of view. and so that's why I've invited her to come on to. the podcast today. so Mallory, I would love it if you would, just dive in and start sharing your story. I mean, you've got six open heart surgeries and a transplant to tell us about. So where should we begin?

Mallory: yeah. So the, the transplant was the sixth and final, which was a little over two years ago now. So, um, I was born with a heart defect called Epstein's Anomaly. It's a tric. But valve defect, when I was young, they knew right away because I was kind of blue when I was born. But, it didn't affect me too, too much when I was young.

And then at about 12 years old, I started having some issues. I was a ballet dancer and I just suddenly wasn't keeping up with my peers very well. And, there was one specific event where I, I turned very blue, more so than I. You know, usually was, I always had a little bit of a blue tint to my, like, fingers and toes especially.

and at that point when that happened, my parents made an appointment with my cardiologist who I was already seeing, I believe, once a year at the time. And I went in and, I found out that I was gonna need an open heart surgery to repair this valve. so I was wildly under prepared for that at 12 years old , know, back then, they didn't too much about how it affected.

you know, you mentally and depression that, uh, the bypass machine can cause. So I wasn't really warned about any of that. I just thought, okay, I'm gonna like go have this surgery and be fixed and then everything in dance is gonna be super great again. that was not the case. I was definitely never the same.

You know, I came back to dance after about a month in the hospital. Actually. I had some complications with that first one and was so skinny and and weak, and I had lost, you know, a ton of muscle that I had spent. Gosh, nine years at that point building. I've done ballet since I was three. it took me a long time to sort of rehab physically from that.

and then I had pretty severe depression for years following that surgery. And back then they didn't really know. How to help with that or like what the link was between depression and and open heart surgery. They knew it existed. They didn't really understand fully why. I think I saw some therapists at the time, but it was very much by persuasion of my parents rather than my own choice, which never really goes well.

So yeah, at 16 I needed another surgery. I just really started not feeling well. Um, so they did a. Another valve repair at the time. They also rerouted my blood flow a different way through my heart to take some of the workload off of my right ventricle. Uh, that had been very overworked, so it was, it was growing pretty rapidly, which was causing a lot, a lot of stamina issues.

so after that surgery, I was never really the same. I just didn't recover quite as well as I did from the first one. I did go back to dance. Definitely. I wasn't dancing nearly as much as I had been prior. and eventually I, I went to college. I got a job when I was like 19 or 20 as a waitress, eventually a bartender, so that was pretty physically demanding.

I stayed in shape due to that, but I wasn't really like exercising outside of work. it was definitely tough for me. I couldn't work as much as, as a lot of other people could. I needed some extra days off or like, not as long of shifts. and then when I was maybe 25, I started really not feeling well again.

I started having some things happen. Um, I went into atrial flutter a few times, which is like a very, very rapid heart rate. and I would have to be taken to the emergency room and be cardioverted. and around that same time, after that happened multiple times, I, it was discovered that I was an end stage heart failure.

which at that point, , they did a valve replacement. I ended up having two open heart surgeries the same day. With that. There was a little bit of an emergency where they had to go back in, so that was three and four. and that did not work. If anything, the replacement valve kind of made it worse. At this point, my heart took up 75% of my chest cavity.

I had quit working and I was pretty much on bedrest, spending 16, 17, 18 hours a day in bed, if not more, 12 or more of those sleeping. I would get up, it was to do really simple stuff. I had a great group of friends who I'd. , you know, come over and like, help me do my hair and makeup and get ready and maybe they'd take me to dinner or whatever, but I really wasn't doing much more.

and I waited a couple years of feeling like that. And, a week after my 30th birthday, they. Decided to move me into the hospital at the Cleveland Clinic to be put on intravenous medication. My heart just could not really pump on its own anymore. so that medication helped my heart pump, but that medication also can very rapidly cause multiple organ failure.

So they talked about, you know, other options, and ultimately decided to put me on a right ventricular device or a right ventricular assist device, which is similar to A L V A D. Um, I'm sure a lot of people have heard of an L V A D. But it's for the right side of the heart. So it's a little different in that once you have it in, you cannot leave the hospital.

It's, it's kind of a big machine. It's I believe that like ECMO might be included with it. So therefore, I was, I was at a one status, you know, pretty much the top of the list. That was open heart number five when they put that in and kind of did some other, like, preparation work for a transplant. And then three days later after I had the r a D put in, I, I got a match and got a new heart.

that was a little over two years ago. That recovery was very difficult, harder than any prior open heart surgery. it was mentally more challenging. It was physically more challenging. Getting used to all the transplant medications is still uh, a struggle. But much more tolerable now than it was then.

when I got outta the hospital, I started getting into weightlifting. I had kind of like lifted weights before I've been, I had been to the gym before, but not seriously by any means, and I just decided to start doing it just strengthen, you know, especially like my chest area. And my arms.

And I was just so weak and had so little muscle, you know, by that time because of all the years on in bed. and I just really, really fell in love with weightlifting like pretty quickly. And now, two years later, I am a bodybuilder. I am, have a, have a bodybuilding competition in three weeks. I'm in school for exercise science.

you know, I would love to pursue a degree regarding, um, fitness and nutrition, specifically for cardiovascular disease prevention, cardiovascular disease, living. and, you know, I already am doing some advocacy work, and I hope that with, these degrees, that I would like to get as, as well as all the.

Knowledge I'm gaining just being a bodybuilder. I'm hoping to really help people with, with heart disease.

Suzanne Boots Knighton: Wow. That, that is quite the summary. I have lots of questions. Yeah, I, and I've just been furiously taking notes. so that's like the 50,000 foot view Right. Of your life. And how, how old are you right now? Currently?

Mallory: I am 32.

Suzanne Boots Knighton: 32. I'm just thinking about all that you've been through and 32 is not old like You have been through and an amazing amount of medical trauma and here you are. Thriving anyway. Like I'm assuming,

Mallory: I am assuming.

Suzanne Boots Knighton: based on the fact that you joined Women Heart and you ha you are now in school. Like that is an incredible, taking a step forward what you've been through, and just have to applaud you for that because it could be so easy just to stay in this victim mindset and. Feel sorry for yourself and look at you. You're like ripped and you're doing a Competition

Right. Like,

listeners to hear that, that, that you can go through like the hardest things in life and still thrive. So let's unpack that a little bit. as you are going through this, let's start with like the piece of it all. with all that trauma, with all the setbacks, what did you find was helpful? You've mentioned community. what about your family? Like how, how did you manage all that? Yeah. You were put into mental health therapy at 12 and it sounds like that was against your will, which usually it is at that in that age group, then as you kept having these setbacks, like how did you mentally manage it all?

Mallory: So not well for a long time.

Suzanne Boots Knighton: Mm-hmm.

Mallory: my teenage years, my early twenties were full of depression and bad decision making. so yeah, really not well at first, but, um, something, something kind of happened when I went into heart failure. I had been on, social media, you know, when it happened and, and I was still staying as active as possible while I was on bedrest.

I wasn't doing a ton, I was, you know, maybe using little five pound weights and going on short walks, and I always just had a really positive attitude about it. So, just by mistake. I kind of got a little bit of a following on social media and people were really captivated by the story. I had a lot of women, you know, with heart conditions or maybe who were waiting on transplants, just messaging me, telling me how positive I was and how inspirational I was.

that was the first time that I really recall thinking maybe this isn't so bad. Maybe once I get this heart. I can really use this to my advantage in life. and, you know, fast forward to now after the heart, so I went through a pretty intensive therapy of my own choosing after the transplant. It was like a.

12 week, four days a week, three hours a day, um, like basically behavioral training, uh, to deal with post-traumatic stress disorder, depression. It deals with a lot of, a wide range of different, you know, cognitive differences.

D B T.

Suzanne Boots Knighton: Oh yeah, yeah. I've done D B T. It's amazing. Mm-hmm.

Mallory: I loved it. So, so things really changed for me after that. In fact, maybe a week after that, I went through my first sort of advocacy training with another organization. I got to go to Italy and, uh, go through like a whole. Uh, three or four day in-person training for, for patient advocacy. That was really great.

At this point, I had already been doing the body building for quite some time. I think maybe it was like a year after my transplant that I decided to go through, through the therapy and then, and then the advocacy training. So that was, going on a year ago that I did that. So I had already been getting kind of a lot of great feedback from.

people in general, more so women with heart conditions, just about how great it was to see me being so physically fit And so health conscious. I would post, you know, healthy recipes. I'm really big into clean, clean heart, healthy eating. so when I, when I did that mixed with the first training I did, and now the training with Women Heart, I just started realizing more and more and more that.

this heart condition was really like a blessing, even though it was really challenging to go through and still is challenging some days. It really kind of gave me a super unique edge in the fitness and nutrition world. Um, and I think that I can have a really strong voice. and I think it will be clear to people that I, I know what I'm talking about and I have been through these challenges that I've had to, you know, really get through and figure out what works for maintaining health.


Suzanne Boots Knighton: Incredible. basically you found purpose and meaning

Mallory: And meaning

Suzanne Boots Knighton: story,

Mallory: In your story journey. Yep. And that's what really changed things for me mentally. really got me outta the victim mindset. Not, you know, healing is not linear. So not saying I don't still have those days where. . I don't actually, I don't victimize myself anymore based on my past, but I, I worry about future health concerns more so than I would like to worry about them, and I don't think that's something that's ever necessarily gonna change.

But again, that D B T, uh, really kind of teaches you tools to get those to go away.

Suzanne Boots Knighton: Yes, they do it. for listeners who haven't heard about Dialectic Behavior therapy, it, it it's an incredible way to reparent yourself.

and it teaches you something called distress tolerance. so basically none of us are immune to challenges in life. If you're a human being and you're actively participating in the world, care about others and are putting yourself out there, you're likely going to have a challenge in your life. And D B T is an excellent, curriculum to give you the skills and tools to handle tough days. And I know for me, I wasn't necessarily taught those skills as a, as a child. but you know, in Mallory and I's defense, I don't know if like we're necessarily getting a curriculum and how to handle heart disease, and congenital defects, so,

Mallory: No, we're not. I'm not sure if you were in the breakout room with me when I actually suggested, um, To one of the, uh, one of the facilitators about maybe, uh, D B T specifically for heart patients?

Suzanne Boots Knighton: I wasn't, cuz I, I know I, if I had been, I would've been all over that.

Mallory: Yeah, I, I mentioned that because I recall in my D B T group, it was, it was virtual group therapy, . recall a lot of the times very much feeling like I was sort of taking over the group unintentionally because, , my issue was so complex compared to, to some other issues. Not that those issues were not also equally as challenging.

They were just very, very different from like typical life stressors.

Suzanne Boots Knighton: Mm-hmm. . Mm-hmm. Yeah. and, You obviously have so much to give, right? And so you were just ready to launch out the gate and be like, Hey, I have this amazing tool. I mean, I personally think D B T is like the cure to like so much of society's ills. I really do.

Mallory: Yeah. I've actually been very much considering pursuing, um, sports psychology degree when I am done with this exercise science undergrad.

Suzanne Boots Knighton: Oh, I could see that for you very much in your future. so that's the mental overview. How about the physical? so I've had my scar cut three times and. That's, that's tough. And for you to have had six times, and all that trauma. Let's talk about the physical recovery what

cuz what I'm really interested in is not only how do we heal from open heart surgery, but how do we heal well.

Mallory: So I have just done a lot of experimenting because there is not very much research and curriculum out there. Uh, maybe that will change when I, you know, when I have a PhD and I can write curriculum on it, . Um, so a big thing that I always started with after each open heart surgery was just kind of, Chest mobility, back mobility, stretching, simple yoga things.

and then, you know, I added, I started adding the strength training this time around, which has made. An incredible difference. I have never been more mobile. I have never felt better. A lot of that, of course, is due to now I actually have stamina. so I can push myself further and my muscle endurance can improve and my cardiovascular endurance can improve.

Um, . So I'm seeing those changes so much. I still do have quite a bit of post-surgical pain. a lot of it is in my back, which is pretty common from open heart surgery. I don't know if you experienced that or not. A lot of, lot of back pain. I also had a back, so that's upper back. I also had a bad lower back just from all the time.

in bed. So right after my transplant, pretty much I started going to physical therapy for my back and I was getting acupuncture. So between the back physical therapy, which by the way, I think physical therapy is the cure for a lot of things. for pain management. . So between that and the acupuncture and then just a lot of like core strength training, I completely cured my lower back problems.

I have no lower back problems anymore. I used to dread car rides, airplane ride, you know, all of those things. so my upper back is still an issue. A couple months ago, I started experiencing some left shoulder pain, which as a woman with a heart condition, is very terrifying because you're like, oh my gosh, am I having a heart attack?

I was pretty confident that it was not that I obviously train very, very heavy, and specifically for the category of body building I can pee in. Shoulders are very important, so I'm like, all right. , they're overworked. I had a day where my arm went numb from it. So at that point I decided to get it checked out.

Come to find out, I have my left lower trap just does not activate. So anytime I've been doing back exercises, my shoulders have been taking over. So my left shoulder is actually visibly bigger than my right shoulder because I'm basically exercising it double what I mean too. So now I am in physical therapy for that, for that lower trap.

It hurts. I'm hopeful that it is going to get better, over time, just like my lower back did. And then, you know, when the trap is fixed and the shoulder isn't overworked, the shoulder will feel better. So it's, it's just a very kind of long cycle of listening to your body and getting it checked out and listening to the physical therapist.

and doing the things that you're told to do to make them feel better. so that's kind of more, you know, body mechanic, muscle type, pain recovery. but then there's like a whole other side of, of a heart condition, which is just like, you really feel like you have the flu a lot of the time. much more worse when you're in heart failure, when something is going on with your heart.

But even still after the transplant. . You know, I do so much now and I demand so much of my body that when I wake up in the morning, a lot of the times I'm like, oh my gosh, I do not think I can get outta bed today. So I still require maybe more rest than. Another bodybuilder might. I like to schedule my life in a way that if I need to lay in bed until 10 in the morning, I can lay in bed until 10 in the morning.

a lot of stretching, a lot of massage therapy. this summer I'm getting my yoga teaching certification. Because I believe that if I am first, like forced to do yoga every day for 30 days and then I can get paid for it, maybe I'll actually do it more. I think that is really important.

Flexibility and rate, motion for your body, feeling good. weight training is great. The more muscle you build, the less flexible you become if you don't keep up on it, which will definitely cause some pain. Um, and then, you know, just getting outside and walking. I don't do any super intense cardio. I just mainly walk, hike.

Sometimes I'll take some cycling classes because it's fun. do a lot of pole dancing because that's also fun. But yeah, I mean just a, well, a well-rounded, uh, fitness regimen with. with strength training, flexibility, range of motion, and a little bit of of cardio in there. and then eating healthy. I mean, an anti-inflammatory diet is a real thing.

processed foods are not good for you. Olive oil, fish, you know, lean proteins, greens. That, that there is so much truth in feeling good if you're eating that way. I am not one of those people who doesn't eat carbs. I love carbs. I love rice, bagels, oats, all of those things, but I keep them simple and clean for the most part.

That does not mean I never have pizza and sushi and donuts and cake. I do. , but very much in moderation. and I would say 90% of my diet is very heart healthy, to the point that I actually have to add sodium to my diet, which you will never hear. someone with a heart condition say, know, most of the time the typical American diet is.

So overprocessed and has so much sodium in it that it's really a death sentence for individuals who have cardiovascular disease and is, and is a diagnosis for those that don't. Eventually they will. so I'm hoping to shed more light on, on that and how with diet and, and uh, fitness, you can really make the risk of cardiovascular disease almost non-existent.

Suzanne Boots Knighton: Kapow, that was like an awesome, like mini tutorial thriving physically. Like, and I can't emphasize the anti-inflammatory diet enough with you. I too follow I. , everything you said minus the pole dancing. I have not tried that. However,

blade in addition to my activities here in the Tetons. But, uh, the anti-inflammatory diet, I just got back on it cuz been having all kinds of cardiac issues again and did some blood work and found out my inflammation was sky high cuz I had covid in January. and the covid basically set off this like downhill response or downstream response, of all these inflammation markers to, to just go So I'm following the Mediterranean Paleo diet and it,

night and day. It is night and day for me.

Mallory: Yeah, I think Mediterranean paleo is a very good, um, regimen to follow. I think what's missing when a lot of physicians talk, uh, diet is, is education on macronutrients, micronutrients, know, calories to maintain gain or lose weight. , just saying Mediterranean or Paleos is just such a broad picture and it does not teach individuals how to really kind of zone in on their individual needs because keeping stead steady macronutrients are so important for hormone balances, especially with women.

Keeping steady micronutrients are so important for, you know, eye health, skin health, liver health, kidney health, all of those things. Uh, and I think that's, Really, unfortunately overlooked when, when we are taught about proper nutrition.

Suzanne Boots Knighton: Yeah. I, I, my heart doctor, my surgeon, and my cardiologists have not brought up nutrition once.

Mallory: Yeah, that is unfortunately very, very common.

you almost have to look outside of. Of, you know, the hospital setting for somebody who will teach you more about nutrition. I do recall meeting with a nutritionist in the hospital before my transplant, but I wasn't given anything. I didn't already know . Um, and unfortunately the, the problem is, especially when you have a heart condition, Affording a nutritionist outside of what your insurance will cover is very, very expensive.

and I do think it is something that more insurance needs to look into covering as well as, you know, personal training or some sort of education. the training that I did in Italy, Last December, we talked a lot about policy making and different things that go into presenting, you know, new healthcare technology, whether it would be a device or something like having nutrition education covered by insurance.

And it's very complex. There's so much that goes into it. It's different in every country. but I really, I really hope to make some waves in that in my future with getting more of these policies integrated into, into cardiovascular health within the hospital setting.

Suzanne Boots Knighton: preach it, sister. Yeah. And, episode three. in season one of his podcast, episode three, I interviewed my nutritionist, Georgie McNiff, and she really helped me kind of. come around the bend of healing with the nutritional piece and it's such a good episode. So listeners go back and listen to that because it bras, it basically brings home a lot of what and I are, are talking about. so we've talked about the mental, we've talked about the physical. What about the spiritual for you?

Mallory: Oh my. that has been, I would say my biggest challenge in all of this. It's kind of the, the third and final piece that I need to figure out. right now I'm absolutely nowhere with that. I am. hopeful that this yoga teacher training I'm going through this summer, it's in the middle of nowhere in Portugal, might ignite something.

Suzanne Boots Knighton: Mm-hmm.

Mallory: Um, I want there to be a spiritual aspect. There just is not, and there hasn't been for a long time for me. And I think that's largely due to the fact that I have just taken care of myself for a very long time and I have just been resilient and made it work for me, and I've felt like I am the only person that I can really count on, um, which is not true.

I do have a great family. I have great friends, but I, think it's common with, you know, people who have such. insane health issues, especially at a young age, to just kind of feel really alone. So yeah, the spiritual aspect is a work in progress.

Suzanne Boots Knighton: Mm-hmm. I appreciate that honesty, and I am willing to bet there's a lot of listeners right now who are going, yeah, I'm with you. it just has a way of you, your world, your soul in a, in a way, I don't think any, any other event can in life, and What I'm, what I'm making up about your situation is your timeline kept getting shifted and over again. Like these weren't just minor bumps in the road, right? These were like major timeline shifts over and over again, and that can be so disorienting for the soul.

Mallory: Yes, absolutely. I, you know, and now I'm in this place where I almost feel like I'm reliving my twenties because I spent my twenties. Sick. Um, and here I am with all this energy and I, you know, I didn't really get the chance to do much exploring in my twenties. And, you know, I, I dropped outta college, when I was young, so now I'm 32 in college.

I travel all the time, see the world, and I just like wanna live and be free. But it's almost kind of a weird thing to be doing in your mid thirties.

Suzanne Boots Knighton: I say, right on time. You know, like, this is your time. I mean, it's I don't wanna tell you how to think and feel, but it. You are maximizing your life like you're

lucky ones.

Mallory: I know. I do not feel guilty about it. It's definitely different and I think it's, I think the things I do with my life are quite shocking to a lot of people, but I think that I have a really exciting, fabulous life, and I think that I'm very lucky. I think I'm lucky to have went into heart. You know, the heart failure was inevitable for me.

Eventually. I think I'm very lucky that it happened when I was so young, so I could enjoy this heart in my thirties and in my forties rather than having it happen. When I was in my fifties and then, you know, enjoying the heart at that time in my life. Um, this time I have, you know, youth on my side and a lot of, lot of years ahead, and I feel like it's not too late to pursue these degrees.

Not that it would've been too late if I would've been 50 or so when I got the transplant, but it, it definitely feels like I have more time at my age.

Suzanne Boots Knighton: Wow. Yeah. And youth on your side for healing, cuz I've talked to, I have two other heart transplant stories in this season and they were significantly older than you. and they both are thriving as well, it was harder for them.

Mallory: Yeah.

Suzanne Boots Knighton: Yeah, I say good on you. And again, it is just testament that we as humans can go through really hard things and thrive anyway. And we can heal, not only just heal, but heal well. Right? And

Mallory: Yep.

Suzanne Boots Knighton: everything. let's talk about your heart. do you know who it came from? Like tell me about that part of the story.

Mallory: So I do not know. in order for that to happen, the donor family would have to write a letter to Life Bank who would then contact me, and then I would have the choice as to whether or not I wanted the letter or not. could do the same thing. I could write a letter to them, give it to Life Bank. Life Bank would contact them, and you know that then they would have the choice whether or not to receive the letter.

So far, that has not happened on either side. so yeah, I, I don't know where it came from, but I'm thankful for whoever that person was.

Suzanne Boots Knighton: Mm-hmm. the other two people I interviewed for this, for the Heart Chamber podcast, one of the guys, he was able to find out about the guy and, you know, where his heart came from, and had been making a little bit of contact with the family. But then unfortunately, like the, the parents died and he, he'd never got to meet the family.

But he's, he, he really described it as like a very emotional experience and that wasn't even sure if he wanted to engage. And it, it does sound like that that is a major. extra piece of the healing you choose to take on cuz you're, you're taking on the grief of another family. you can just stay in your lane and focus on your healing.

Mallory: Yes, that my plan is to just sort of stay in my lane.

Suzanne Boots Knighton: Mm-hmm.

Mallory: if they were to reach out, I would probably read the letter. I just have never felt like that's really my place because I'm the one who, who got to live.

Suzanne Boots Knighton: Mm-hmm.

Mallory: so I don't wanna bring up old traumas if they're, if the family is not ready for it.

Suzanne Boots Knighton: Right. That's super

Mallory: Right.

Suzanne Boots Knighton: and that's a good,

Mallory: good.

Suzanne Boots Knighton: for the listeners who are facing heart transplant, do you have any parting advice for people who Are walking.

road you have walked?

Mallory: Stay as strong as you can. even in heart failure exercise to the best of your ability. Listen to your body, you know, a lifetime with a heart condition. I never once passed out. I never once. had to like be taken to the hospital due to, you know, overworking myself physically. I've just always known, okay, this is when I need to stop and I've stopped.

I think staying as strong and as active as possible leading up to different surgeries really helped aid quick recovery. I think that. Being physically strong is a direct reflection of being mentally strong and a lot of times I think it's the first step. It really wasn't until I started getting very into weightlifting that I decided I wanted to tackle my mental health.

And then the mental clarity that I got just from exercising was so significant that it made getting back into school, taking charge of my mental health. You know, volunteering with these different advocacy organizations, traveling, pursuing, you know, pretty extensive degrees, certifications, all of that has been made possible by having a serious, fitness regimen.

That is what really kind of set it off for me. , you know, more and more evidence every day showing the link between being physically fit and being mentally fit.

Suzanne Boots Knighton: Yeah. You've heard it

Mallory: You don't have to go be a bodybuilder, you know, any sort of physical activity that. The sets your heart on fire, no pun intended. is, is the way to go. I personally love the body building aspect because it, it really dives deep into nutrition.

You learned so much about nutrition and body building down to the gram of food.

Suzanne Boots Knighton: Wow.

know. That just sounds like a

to just improve your overall life.

Mallory: I, I weigh everything I eat. I know exactly what I'm taking into my body. I mostly eat single ingredient foods. Yeah, it really , it really, really forces you to learn a lot about what you're eating.

Suzanne Boots Knighton: Mm-hmm.

Well, thank you Mallory, for your time and your courage and your dedication to

Mallory: to improve.

Suzanne Boots Knighton: that will come after you.

Mallory: Well, thank you. I think there's a bright future in that for, for both of us

Suzanne Boots Knighton: That's the goal.

Mallory: the goal. That's

Suzanne Boots Knighton: And that's our episode for today. Thank you so much for spending a little bit of your day with me. If you enjoyed this podcast, I sure would appreciate if you would go to my website, the heart chamber podcast.com, and make a donation. Also, if you are a fellow heart warrior, I'd love to hear from you.

Would you like to share your story on this podcast? You can either send me an email at boots the heart chamber podcast.com or you can go to my website and go to the contact link and leave me a message there. There's also a way to leave via voicemail on my website. I'm so glad you joined me for today.

Please be sure to come back next Tuesday to the Heart Chamber Podcast for another inspiring episode.

About the Podcast

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The Heart Chamber
Hope, Inspiration, and Healing. Conversations on Open Heart Surgery.


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