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Grace Davison of Canton, an Epic Heart Hero, shares her story

On May 14, 2016, we were driving down 6 Mile in Northville, heading to Buca Di Peppa restaurant to celebrate my cousin’s fiftieth birthday, when we drove through the intersection at Sheldon. 

My husband Jeff was driving and he managed to avoid a vehicle turning at the light, but did not see a second vehicle trailing. Our 2015 Jeep Wrangler was T-Boned. The other driver hit our vehicle hard and we spun around. It was struck on the passenger side, where I sat in the front. My son Logan sat in the back seat. The airbags went off and white powder filled the vehicle. 

Police were instantly on the scene as well as an ambulance. Coincidentally 6 Mile and Sheldon has a fire station right on that corner. We were all in shock and felt as if we couldn’t breathe at that moment. My seatbelt seemed to grab me so tightly that I couldn’t get out of the vehicle. I remember screaming to get my son out of the back seat. He had hit his head on the front head rest and it was badly bruised with some blood dripping down. 

My husband seemed OK. The EMTs checked us and we seemed OK to proceed on to our party. So, we got a ride from by brother-in-law and headed to the restaurant, of course still in shock. 

A few days later, my husband’s neck was sore and Logan’s head looked like it had been burned. As for me, I had bruises all over, including on my chest from the seat belt and I wasn’t feeling well; I felt some heart palpitations and pinching in my chest. I went to see my Dr. at St Joe’s and they completed some X-Rays. They did not find any broken bones, just serious bruises. 

A few weeks later I went back to the ER with numbness in my left arm and heart palpitations. I knew something was wrong. They checked me in and put me through a series of tests and could not find anything. I showed them the bruising that was still healing on the left side of my chest and said I think something is wrong with my heart. They later completed a scan and said I needed to see a cardiologist.  

Dr. Pruitt from St. Joe’s came in to see me and said I had a 5.3 cm heart aneurysm in my aortic valve. He said it was not a result of the accident, but, the accident did help us find it. He said many people go through life not knowing that they have this heart issue and mine had to be growing for at least 5-10 years. I was shocked, shaken, confused. I had just kayaked the treacherous waters of Lake Superior the year before and white-water rafted with my husband in the River Gorge. Could the aneurysm have burst then? I felt so lucky to be alive, yet I knew that there was no way around this other than to have open heart surgery and as soon as possible. 

Dr. Pruitt told me that if I started to feel any chest pain, other than the palpitations that I needed to go to the ER immediately as I only had minutes to live if it actually burst. I made an appointment at U of M for a second opinion. 

The U of M doctors agreed with Dr. Pruitt; they actually were friends and occasionally golf together. So, I knew I had to have this done. I asked the doctors how I encountered this aneurysm. They asked if I smoked or had high blood pressure. My answers were no, no. It could be hereditary. Then it dawned on me. I was 49 and my dad had an aneurysm at 49 as well. 

Back when he had his surgery in the 90s, they did not have a reconstruction procedure, but he received the St. Jude mechanical valve and three bypasses at Beaumont. When he was in his 60s he had a pacemaker installed. My mom had five bypasses when she was 51 at the Cleveland Clinic. My brother, a nine-time marathon runner, had a heart attack at 39 and three stents in his main arteries. He had a second heart attack at 47, with three more stents inserted. Last year at 49 (the magical number), he had open-heart surgery to repair his mitral valve and have 5 bypasses (which repaired the stents). 

It was clearly hereditary, but with modern medicine, prayer and an awesome support group, I felt assured that I would get through this, just as my other family members.

On June 25, 2016, I had a four-hour open heart surgery. They completed the David Procedure, founded in 2007, and were able to repair my aortic valve with some tubing. I didn’t need any blood thinners. In recovery, I went into v-fib as my heart was not accepting the new mesh and I had to be shocked to come back to life. 

My body swelled up like a balloon, but when I came to, my husband was by my side. They took the tubes out and I was soon on my way to recovery. The very next day they had me up and walking. I spent a week in the hospital with an awesome team at St Joe’s. They told me “walking was medicine for my heart.”

I follow up every March with Dr. Pruitt and have a CT scan with contrast. My heart is doing well. I think “Heart SMART.” We eat lots of vegetables and salad. Fish and chicken are a must and soda and salt has been removed from our diets. I have an occasional glass of wine and I try to get 10,000 steps a day as suggested by the American Heart Association. I also walk on the treadmill. I also sign up for 5k runs and every year donate to the American Heart Association for further research. I feel great and live a happy life. Out of five people in my immediate family, four have had open-heart surgery. My sister, Greta who will turn 49 this year has already had her heart checked. So far, so good and she lives a healthy life as well. I think that a family should be aware of their genes and everyone should think “Heart SMART.”