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Gymnast and CrossFit competitor shocked by life-changing diagnosis

As a teenager, Rosy McCall experienced ‘heart palpitations’ that her doctor explained as normal for a gymnast. They continued throughout her teens and twenties.

Can healthy people get heart disease?

Rosy with her partner Jonathan, and daughter Julia.

As a 33-year-old gymnastics coach and CrossFit competitor, another doctor picked up a ‘little heart murmur’ which led to a life-changing diagnosis.

“I went to the doctor for the flu and she checked my heartrate and said, ‘You’ve got a little murmur’. I thought, ‘Oh that’s a bit scary but I guess it’s just because I’m sick,”’ explains Rosy.

She was sent for an ECG and was asked her if she had ever had rheumatic fever.

“I started to get a bit worried, then the cardiologist called me the next day and told me I had a bicuspid aortic valve which would need replacing within five years.”

A bicuspid aortic valve is a birth defect of the heart where the valve has two ‘flaps’ instead of three to control blood flow, this can cause serious heart issues including heart failure.

Heart valve replacement needed

After five years of careful monitoring of her heart, the cardiologist’s words rang true – Rosy’s heart was working too hard which would lead to permanent damage.

She now faced open-heart surgery to replace the faulty valve with a mechanical one, at just 38 years-of-age. 

“I am really thankful the doctors had warned me it’s risky to carry a baby when you have a mechanical valve because I am on blood-thinning medication for the rest of my life to prevent blood clots. By the time my valve needed replacing, my daughter Julia, was just over a year old.”

Gymnast Rosie needed open-heart surgery

Rosy finally had her surgery on January 08, 2018, following several anxious weeks’ wait while surgeons were busy dealing with an influx of emergencies.

“They called me three days beforehand and I thought, ‘Oh my God, it is actually happening, now it’s getting real, it’s scary,” exclaims Rosy.

“I was quite nervous the night before, I only slept about two hours.”

Recovering from open-heart surgery

The operation took four hours, when Rosy woke up in intensive care three hours after surgery she says her chest was very sore, making it difficult to breathe.

“They got me sitting up and into a ward the following day but it was really painful. The nurses were great though, they helped me breathe throught it. I slept sitting up for the first two or three days,” she says.

“The lady beside me had had the same thing done and we both said, ‘this sucks.’

“I have lost 5kg since the surgery because I didn’t feel like eating. I felt quite shaky and flu-like for a few weeks.

“However, I am feeling much better now, five weeks later. The scar is starting to fade, it has gone down but it is still sore to touch.”

Rosy is sharing her story to bring awareness of her situation to others who may dismiss their symptoms because of their age and fitness level.

“It’s scary to think if this problem wasn’t picked up and double-checked by a very thorough doctor, I wouldn’t have known about it until it was too late. Just because you’re young and very fit, doesn’t mean you can’t have a heart problem.”

Rosy’s cardiologist has received funding for specialist training and research from the Heart Foundation. This includes an Overseas Training Fellowship in 2006 in cardiac CT scans and MRI in Rotterdam.

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