Latasha Aiken had always dreamed of being a mom. When a life-threatening heart condition almost took that away from her, she was heartbroken.
Aiken, 41, started experiencing cold and flu-like symptoms in 2017, which she soon found out was caused by congestive heart failure. She went to multiple doctors in her hometown of Daytona for more than a year and half. They put her on different medications, none of which worked. Eventually, doctors told Aiken she needed to quit working or she would continue to get sick. But Aiken was working two jobs to pay her bills and couldn’t afford to just quit, so she continued on and kept getting sicker.
When a cardiologist in Daytona cautioned Aiken about getting pregnant because it would likely be fatal, she didn’t think it would be a problem. Previously diagnosed with polycystic ovary syndrome, which affects hormone levels and makes it harder to get pregnant, Aiken had come to terms with the possibility of never being a mother.
Aiken started some serious lifestyle changes to improve her health, including maintaining a good diet and working out. She began feeling better than she had in a long time. Then, Aiken got some surprising news: She was pregnant. Aiken was immediately nervous about the cardiologist’s warning but she knew the child was her miracle.
“I was scared because I didn’t know what would happen. But I knew that I just needed to take my pregnancy day by day.”
The pregnancy was relatively smooth and her heart caused no serious issues. On Jan, 31, 2019, Aiken welcomed home her son Ahde.
Before long, trouble appeared: The medication stopped working and her heart failure began to worsen. About a month after Ahde was born, Aiken started having shortness of breath and extreme swelling in her legs and feet. She couldn’t even make it up the stairs.
“I was just worried about being able to take care of my son and if I would I be able to live to be a part of his life,” she said.
Aiken continued going to different hospitals and doctors, even driving to Orlando trying to find a medical solution. Nothing worked and some doctors just kept increasing her medication doses. Eventually, she was referred to UF Health by a cardiologist who told her to go straight there if she got worse. On one particularly rough day for her in June 2019, Aiken’s mother put her in the car and drove her from Daytona to the emergency room at UF Health in Gainesville.
“The doctors at UF Health immediately took action on my health issue. They worked so hard to save me and help me have a normal life again,” she said.
Aiken was in desperate need of a heart transplant and her cardiovascular surgeon Eric Jeng, MD, placed her on the transplant list. Their goal was to sustain her heart until a transplant became available.
Their first attempt to keep her heart stable until the transplant was with an intra-aortic balloon pump, a device that helps the heart work properly. Unfortunately, Aiken’s heart failure was too advanced for the balloon pumps to work properly. The doctors decided she needed a more intense pump to survive until a transplant.
The condition was debilitating: Aiken had to have constant help with her then 6-month-old baby. She felt weak and couldn’t help but wonder why this was happening to her. She had been healthy all her life and was quite active while working her two jobs. However, Aiken remained optimistic through it all. Her infant son gave her the strength to keep going.
The doctors implmented a left ventricular assist device, a surgically implanted pump used for end-stage heart failure. Knowing it was her only hope of making it to the transplant, Aiken went through with the surgery. It worked for eight months until a blood clot caused her heart to rapidly fail. She was running out of time.
Then, about a month later, Aiken got another surprise. On Feb. 25, 2020, the doctors told her they had gotten her a heart.
“The doctors came into my room and I was immediately filled with so many emotions for the donor, myself and my son,” she said. “But it was an overall happy moment to learn I would be alive to be a part of my sons’ life.”
Before they started the transplant, Aiken was nervous about the outcome and anxious about the life changes that might await her. She entered the operating room filled with encouragement and ready to fight for her life.
The transplant was a success. She remained in the hospital for more than a month. Along the way, the doctors helped her discover new ways to live a better, more normal life.
“I would not be where I am today without UF Health and Dr. Jeng,” she said.
In April 2020, Aiken went home and worked on slowly regaining strength. Now, Aiken is living life a little slower. Still, she is thankful for the small joys of motherhood – like going to the park and playing toy trucks with Ahde.