Heart Disease Survivor Says Women and New Moms Need to Advocate for Their Health

Five years after Naz Saleem won her battle against Hodgkin’s lymphoma at just 25 years old, she gave birth to her son — and found out her cancer treatment had left a lasting impact on her body.

The day after giving birth, Saleem, who is now 52 and lives in Oak Brook, Illinois, was diagnosed with an aortic valve leak, also called aortic valve regurgitation. The condition causes some blood to flow backward from the aorta — the main blood vessel that carries oxygenated blood throughout the body — and into the left ventricle instead of out into the body, according to the American Heart Association (AHA).

The radiation that helped cure Saleem’s cancer was breaking down her heart. One month after she had her son, Saleem underwent the first of several heart surgeries, including her first valve replacement. She knew she’d need another replacement down the road.

For the next 13 years, Saleem’s symptoms were under control. She even did CrossFit five or six times a week. But when she was in her early forties, Saleem noticed a persistent symptom: uncharacteristic anxiety, the same kind she experienced during her first week of motherhood, the result of a leaky valve making her heart pump faster.

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