At nineteen, Abi- Gaye Smythe was not learning to drive, or worrying about freshman year in college. She was in the doctor’s office being diagnosed with Arrhythmogenic Right Ventricular Dysplasia (ARVD). ARVD is a heart disease that affects the right side of the heart and cause abnormal heart rhythms and increases the risk of cardiac arrest. At nineteen, she was learning that her life could end at any time but she was not complaining that she was bored or tired of life, she was fighting to live.
After her diagnosis in 2011 she under-went two surgeries in 2012. First to regulate her heart beat with an Implantable Cardioverter Defibrillator (ICD) and the second to put the ICD deeper since her body was fighting against it.
As if that trauma wasn’t enough in 2013 she was hospitalized when her heart rate went over 190 beats per minute (bpm) on the brink of cardiac arrest. Regular heart rhythms lie between 50 and 90 beats per minute. The ICD shocked her in an attempt to slow down her heart beat. However, the intensity of the shocks caused the wires from the ICD to shift and almost pierced her heart.
Abi-Gaye interacting with students at Manchetser High School
Living with heart disease.
Her heart disease continues to affect both her personal and school life. “People gravely fear this condition to the point where it affects relationships and I can’t be as active as I used to be, my passion of dancing is out the window, I may not be able to even carry a child.”
Abi-Gaye attended Manchester High School and she was an active member of Girls Guide and a remarkable dancer. She describes her time at high school as the best days of her life. However, since being diagnosed Abi’s life has not been the same. She had to sit out semesters as a result of the surgeries. She is currently pursuing her Communications Studies degree at Northern Caribbean University (NCU) emphasizing in Television. Her peers describe her as courageous person who has used her obstacles to positively propel her life forward. “Instead of being in despair about her health she seeks to help and motive others.” Shana-Kaye Azan, Abi-Gaye’s friend and classmate.
Support from family
Abi-Gaye Smythe’s cousins Julie Ann Nelson (Left) Monique Smythe (right)
Abi’s family remains positive they pray with her and support her when she has to do her checkups every three months. “I have a strong support team of my close friends and family. My dad and big brothers take care of me.”
There is a history of heart disease in Abi’s family her mother died of Ventricular Arrhythmia when she was nine. Her cousin Julie-Ann Nelson stepped up as the maternal figure staying at her side for consultations, heart test and surgeries. Abi’s cousin Monique Smythe said she became a stronger person after her surgeries.
“She is more motivated to help others and make a change in society.” Abi seeks to help others through The Abi-Gaye Smythe ‘I Have a Heart’ Foundation.
Making a Difference
As a result of the struggles that Abi faced during her surgery she established The Abi-Gaye Smythe ‘I have a Heart’ Foundation to help persons who are affected by heart disease in Jamaica. The foundation advocates for the financial and psychological needs of people living with heart disease in Jamaica.
Abi-Gaye Smythe speaking at the Rotaract Club of Northern Caribbean University Induction Ceremony 2014.
“Seeing and actually experiencing the struggles of living with a heart condition and knowing that there are others out there less fortunate than I am, I decided to start a foundation to help those people” She started the foundation in 2013, since then and has been campaigning and sharing her story with students across the island. The Abi-Gaye Smythe ‘I Have a Heart’ Foundation launched the ‘Keep It Pumping’ school tour in October 2014. Since then Abi and her team has visited several high schools in central Jamaica and she shared her story with the students.
“When I share my story and people tell me that I am their motivation, their inspiration and that I am the strongest person they know; that gives me the extra push to keep going. That motivates me.” Despite her desire to make a difference in the lives of people across Jamaica she has been facing difficulty in terms of funding for her foundation
Help Abi-Gaye fulfill her dream of helping persons who are affected by heart disease by donating to The Abi-Gaye Smythe ‘I have a Heart’ Foundation Jamaica National account 2094135044. Her foundation can be found on Facebook at The Abi Gaye Smythe ‘I have a Heart’ Foundation and on twitter @i2HaveaHeart.
It has been four years since her diagnosis and Abi-Gaye is living well with heart disease. She is driven to get her education and help other people with heart disease in Jamaica. Abi-Gaye Smythe is the “little girl with a big heart”.
Writer: Tanica Cowan