All Heart

Photography Tina Sargeant

Annemarie Ward refuses to be life’s spectator. After a cardiac arrest at age seven, though, she didn’t have much choice. For most of her life, Annemarie has been afflicted with hypertrophic cardiomyopathy, a condition that causes the heart muscle cells to enlarge and subsequently cause the walls of the ventricles (usually the left ventricle) to thicken (heart.org). During her freshman year in college, however, she got the gift of a lifetime: a heart transplant. And, while she certainly is all heart in the metaphorical sense, she refuses to be defined by the condition that held her life for so long. Now, post-transplant, Annemarie is living life to the fullest!

The Lakelander: At age 21, you’ve already led a remarkable life. Tell us about it.

Annemarie Ward: I have not lived the easiest life, but remarkable is the perfect way to describe it. I have always lived with this identity of being “the girl with the heart condition,” never just Annie. Between the ages of seven and 18, I experienced several heart attacks and lived every day, pre-transplant, feeling completely exhausted due to the poor condition of my heart. I also lived out most of my childhood with an implanted defibrillator/pacemaker. Although life was much compromised, I am thankful to have had friends and family who were always supportive and helped me obtain normalcy to the best of their ability. All the odds were working against me, but I had a choice to make: either let this defeat me or defeat this heart disease. I choose to not let my disease define me. Instead, I choose to live a remarkable life.

TL: Last year, you became a national spokesperson for the American Heart Association’s Go Red For Women campaign called Real Women. What do you do in this capacity?

AW: Within this role, I advocate and bring awareness to heart disease and stroke on a national level. My story is on the American Heart Association’s official website, and I am involved with many different events locally. Within Lakeland alone, I have represented and participated in various events such as the Polk Heart Walk and the Polk Heart Ball. Being a national representative gives me the opportunity to share my story with the hopes of bringing awareness to heart disease and stroke.

TL: Before age seven, was there any indication you were living with this heart condition?

AW: The only indication was when I was five years old and a doctor heard a faint murmur, but the doctor assumed I would grow out of it.

TL: How has your life changed since receiving the transplant?

AW: Since the transplant, life has been very confusing. I know that seems like an odd adjective to describe it, but it’s a good thing overall. I’m learning a lot of things about myself and life in general. Pretransplant, I was very dependent on my family and extremely limited. Now, I’m able to do and experience things I never thought would be an option for me. My life has changed for the absolute best, but every day I learn and discover something new about myself and what life has to offer.

TL: What are you studying at Southeastern, and what are your future plans?

AW: I’m currently a senior and will graduate from Southeastern University this April with my bachelor’s degree in social work. My plans are to eventually pursue graduate school and possibly work for the American Heart Association. I’m excited to see what the future holds, and I hope I can be an advocate for heart health and truly make a difference.

The American Heart Association builds healthier lives, free of cardiovascular diseases and stroke. For more about this organization, please visit heart.org or goredforwomen.org.