When Dana Jones’ daughter was just 4 years old, she would randomly tell people at Walmart that God told her that her mom was going to die before she turned 5. It became such a common occurrence that Dana had to tell her to stop. Not long after, however, Dana, a cardiac sonographer, found a rapidly growing aortic aneurysm in her own heart. Within days, she was undergoing emergency open heart surgery at the age of 24.
Dana was born with a heart murmur and diagnosed with what was thought to be a bicuspid aortic valve (two aortic leaflets instead of three) at age 5. She was treated at Medical Center of Central Georgia in Augusta. Aside from frequent cardiologist visits, she says her childhood was fairly normal.
“Growing up, I tried not to let CHD define me,” Dana said. “In fact, I didn’t want any of my friends to know because I didn’t want them to pity me or treat me differently. My parents never treated me any differently from my brothers. They let me decide if certain activities were too much for me.”
She also felt heard and understood by her pediatric cardiologist, Dr. Strong, who has since retired.
“Dr. Strong always told me that I knew my body best and to do what I felt like doing as far as sports and activities went,” Dana said. “He showed so much compassion toward me and listened to me. He really listened.”
In Dana’s teenage years, her health began to decline. She went from being a typical softball player and competition cheerleader to feeling constantly weak and out of breath. Doctors advised her not to become pregnant again after she gave birth to her daughter, Dani, at age 20. The strain on her heart was too much. After her emergency open heart surgery in 2012, Dana discovered that her valve was actually unicuspid (one aortic leaflet instead of three) and much worse than any of her doctors knew when she was growing up.
The kind of empathy and compassion that Dana received from her pediatric cardiologist later influenced her decision to become a Pediatric Cardiac Sonographer. She’s worked for Sibley Heart Center in Albany for nearly five years, and she uses her own life experiences to help children diagnosed with CHD and their families.
I can shine a light in what can be a very dark moment for parents,” Dana said. “They can see past that scary moment of diagnosis or the prospect of surgery to what the future could be. I’m standing there talking to them, working a job and doing well.”
Dana strives to be someone who will truly listen to her patients, as her doctor was for her. Because she can relate to what’s happening to them, she has made it her mission to be a “safe haven” where the walls can come down and kids and parents feel free to express their true feelings and symptoms.
“When kids are panicked, I can show them my scar and tell them they’re going to be okay,” Dana said. “For my teen patients facing surgery, I don’t sugarcoat the experience they are about to go through, but I prepare them with honesty because I wish someone would have done that with me prior to surgery. I hope that it helps them to see a living, breathing example of a CHD survivor.”
Dana also feels a strong calling from the God who warned her daughter that she wouldn’t live to see her turn 5.
“God has a plan for CHD. He has a plan for every hurt and every tear. He comforts us in all our troubles so that we can comfort others. That’s why I am still here on this earth, to use my pain and my past to help others with their future.”
Soon after Dana’s surgery, Dani said God told her something new. Now, her mom will not be going to Heaven until her hair turns white.