Taft College English professor, Jessica Grimes is getting to the heart of the matter as she shares her personal story of living with heart diseases and advocating for women’s heart health. Grimes was diagnosed with cardiomyopathy in 2016. Prior to being diagnosed, she had several family members who died of cardiomyopathy in 1997, 2010, 2014, and just recently, in 2017.“With a family history like that, you might have thought I would have been aware of my susceptibility to this disease, but I wasn’t. Even when I began experiencing symptoms in the latter part of my third month of pregnancy, heart disease was far from my mind. I judged myself, based on my age and appearance, as healthy.,” Grimes says. “In fact, I considered my symptoms of coughing, shortness of breath, and swollen ankles routine, so I was more inclined to ignore what I thought was a severe case of bronchitis. It took six visits to the doctor, the last one to the emergency room, before I was diagnosed with heart disease, but it has taken me over a year to adjust to exactly what that means.”

In her fifth month of pregnancy, Grimes lost her baby. “It’s hard to fathom that my heart wasn’t able to carry my precious baby, but that’s what living with cardiomyopathy means—it means struggling to find peace when you feel overwhelming loss. It means coming to terms with certain doors closing that you thought were open, and I know I am not alone in feeling this way. In this sense, having heart disease feels like being a survivor and a casualty at the same time,” she says. “There are no words for that kind of pain, but the hope that perhaps one day someone won’t have to suffer like me makes me pray and believe that the research will eventually allow someone like me to have a baby. I still grieve not only losing my baby but also the fact that I will not be able to bear children, ever.”

Loss has not broken Grimes spirit, but has propelled her into an advocate for men and women to be aware their heart health. “For me, having heart disease has been my catalyst to be the best version of myself. As a result, I have sought spiritual advice, deepening my relationship with God, loving harder, and living every day to the fullest. I feel a sense of empowerment because I know that I’m not my disease. I am living with it, managing it. But I’m still teaching English; I am still pursuing my PhD, and I am still setting goals for myself and for those whom I am supposed to help. Life is more complex and challenging, but it is also sweet,” she says.

As a staff member at Taft College for 10 years, Grimes has inspired the campus, her students adore her and draw motivation from her teachings and inspiration from her strong spirit. She draws the same light within her community as well. She is a a member of Links, a community service organization, sits on the executive board of ShePower, another community service non-profit. In addition, she is involved with The Hina Patel Foundation’s annual Sickle/Cell fundraiser and the American Heart Association’s Go Red fundraiser.

Her office is filled with inspirational quotes but she says one that sticks out in her mind and draws inspiration from regularly is by St. Francis of Assissi: “Start by doing what’s necessary; then do what’s possible; and suddenly you are doing the impossible.”