Time to Get Real About the Importance of Heart Health

Lakeisha Brown has a story to tell, and the moral is this: Listen to your body and don’t be afraid to ask for help.

Healthy Heart|Jan.26, 2024

Lakeisha Brown remembers being in complete and utter shock.

Was a doctor really telling her she had heart disease? In her 40s? Even though she regularly lifted weights at the gym? Even though she avoided fast food and didn’t smoke?

Sure enough, that was the diagnosis.

“I didn’t think heart failure looked like me,” she says, taking stock of a health journey that started in 2018. 

How can you tell if your heart is unhealthy? It’s a question any one of us could ask.

And from Brown’s point of view, heart health starts with asking questions.

She uses an example from her professional passion, catering (she is the founder and lead chef of LA Browns Baking and Catering in Houston, Texas): “If you don’t feel like you’re full enough with what you were given, you ask for more until you are full.”

From that diagnosis, her journey took a number of twists and turns — the biggest one being the discovery that she had heart failure. But Brown has been feeling full of life ever since. She uses our HeartMate 3 Left Ventricular Assist Device (LVAD) to stay nimble while running her business, to stick to her workout routine and to keep up with her 2-year-old niece.

For American Heart Month in February, we sat down with Brown to get a personal lesson on the importance of heart health. Here is our conversation, which has been edited for length. And here’s to inspiring all of us to listen to our hearts.

Let’s walk back through your health journey. In a recent TV interview, you said it was around 2018 that you started to notice a heaviness on your chest when you would lie down. Is that where everything began?

Yes. I let it go for a couple of days because it wasn’t painful. I even thought it might have been an anxiety attack or something like that because it was only happening at certain times of the day — at night, especially.

And again, it wasn’t painful, so I just kind of brushed it off. But that was a catalyst. It propelled me to go to the urgent care to see what was going on, because it just became increasingly uncomfortable to sleep at night.

And from there?

At urgent care, they did a series of tests and said they thought it was something more serious and that I should see a cardiologist. I went that day, and the doctor told me, “You have the heart of a 90-year-old.”

And I was like, “I don't even understand what that means.” He said, “You’re really sick.”

I was just ... I was just in shock. I couldn’t believe it. Literally as I was in his office, the nurse was wheeling in a wheelchair to take me to the hospital next door.

Eventually, it sunk in: This explains why I’d been feeling kind of yucky, especially at night.

At the hospital, I remember the ER doctor was visibly upset. He thought my general practitioner should have caught this. I’d been thinking about my blood pressure and other telltale signs that maybe they just didn’t catch or might have even ignored.

But after that, you would go on to see several different cardiologists.

Unbeknownst to me at the time, I started to get sicker and sicker.

(The first cardiologist) did suggest that I get a pacemaker defibrillator, which I did. And I tried trucking along. Going back to the gym. Started catering a little bit more. Based on the information I received, I just carried on with my life.

Only your condition got worse.

It did. It did over time.

Sometimes it makes me upset because I think I should have known better, but I didn’t know what questions to ask. So, when I come into contact with people now, I tell them you have to be your own advocate.

You have to ask certain questions — or ask questions, period.

What other advice do you give them?

One thing I suggest to people is that, if you don’t have any medical knowledge, bring someone with you to an appointment. Maybe you have a niece, a friend, a neighbor, a cousin, someone who’s a nurse or something like that. They can sit with you and ask certain questions that you wouldn’t have thought to ask.

So that’s my biggest thing. I just didn’t know what questions to ask. I was never told, through three cardiologists, how sick I really was — because, had I known, I would have said: “Well, wait a minute. If I’m this sick, then what’s the plan?”

What’s an example of one of those good questions to ask about heart health?

Thinking back to what brought you to that point and knowing your history.

My maternal grandmother died of congestive heart failure. And so, through a series of tests, they told me that my condition was really due to genetics. I was predisposed.

That made me think about my four daughters — for them to go and get checked out and make sure they don’t have any issues. And to just be steadfast in that.

Let’s talk about when you got your HeartMate 3. When was this? And can you talk a little bit about the process involved?

It was introduced to me when I was admitted into the hospital in December of 2021. That was the first time I’d ever heard of an LVAD or a HeartMate 3.

And after I got it — once I was able to start moving around a little bit — I could feel the difference. Not having to heave for air and oxygen.

I could walk from one end of the room to the other without feeling like I had to stop to take a breath.

So, I would say that the changes I noticed were almost instantaneous.

And I would guess that, in the catering business, you’re on your feet a lot, and that would make a difference there.

Absolutely. You know, that’s something I definitely worried about in the hospital, among other things: Would I be able to get back and be the same? But I knew I wanted to get back to it.

You bring your HeartMate with you everywhere. How has that adjustment been?

Believe it or not, sometimes I still forget that I’m attached to something.

I’ve said this before to a few people: Most days, I don’t feel sick. Most days are just like today. I got up and did what I would normally do — go spend time with my niece, who’s full of energy, and then go to the gym later.

It’s just a part of me now.

What do you do in the gym? What’s your workout routine?

Free weights. Treadmill. Elliptical — I started doing the elliptical again. It’s not too hard on the knees.

I started doing classes again, too. Yoga.

Has life after HeartMate 3 changed your perspective at all on the importance of heart health?

I won’t speak for other people, but for me, when I thought about people having heart issues, I thought of someone who was overweight. Someone who was old, or a smoker, or who had a lot going on in their lives.

That’s why I was so taken aback in shock. As I said, I would go and do a weightlifting class and then get on a Stairmaster for an hour with no problem, you know?

So, one of the biggest takeaways for me is to know that heart failure can definitely look like me.

What’s the big takeaway for everyone else?

Definitely pay attention to your body.

You’ll know when something is off, so pay attention to your body. And when you go to the doctor, know what your symptoms are.

While I was in the hospital, I kept thinking, “I want to be there to see my child graduate from high school.” And since then, she has finished. She finished up her first semester of college.

I’ve been able to see my two older daughters graduate from college, as well. So it’s been really, really good.

When I was coming up on the two-year anniversary of getting my LVAD, I was reflecting and thinking about all these things I’ve been able to do with my family, with my children, my husband, my business.

And that’s two years I wouldn’t have had, had I not gotten a HeartMate 3.

Visit DoMoreForHeartFailure.com to learn more about heart failure and, if you are living with heart failure, how you can talk to someone like you.

These materials are not intended to replace your doctor’s advice or information. For any questions or concerns you may have regarding the medical procedures, devices and/or your personal health, please discuss these with your physician.

This testimonial relays an account of an individual’s response to the treatment. This patient's account is genuine, typical, and documented. However, it does not provide any indication, guide, warranty or guarantee as to the response other persons may have to the treatment. Responses to the treatment discussed can and do vary and are specific to the individual patient.

Important safety information


Rx Only

Brief Summary: Prior to using these devices, please review the Instructions For Use for a complete listing of indications, contraindications, warnings, precautions, potential adverse events and directions for use.

Indications: The HeartMate 3 Left Ventricular Assist System is indicated for providing short- and long-term mechanical circulatory support (e.g., as bridge to transplant or myocardial recovery, or destination therapy) in adult and pediatric patients with advanced refractory left ventricular heart failure and with an appropriate body surface area.

Contraindications: The HeartMate 3 Left Ventricular Assist System is contraindicated for patients who cannot tolerate, or who are allergic to, anticoagulation therapy.

Adverse Events: Adverse events that may be associated with the use of the HeartMate 3™ Left Ventricular Assist System are: death, bleeding, cardiac arrhythmia, localized infection, right heart failure, respiratory failure, device malfunctions, driveline infection, renal dysfunction, sepsis, stroke, other neurological event (not stroke-related), hepatic dysfunction, psychiatric episode, venous thromboembolism, hypertension, arterial non-central nervous system (CNS) thromboembolism, pericardial fluid collection, pump pocket or pseudo pocket infection, myocardial infarction, wound dehiscence, hemolysis (not associated with suspected device thrombosis) or pump thrombosis.