Healing a Big Heart

Miriam Salvador has always had a big heart for her heritage and culture. A resident of the Acoma Reservation in northwestern New Mexico, Salvador spends her free time sewing, designing Indian art and making traditional clothing. As an outpouring of her love for her culture and community, she gifts these to her friends and neighbors.

Salvador’s life is rooted in tradition. A direct descendent of the Anasazi people, she was born at and spent her adult life in the ancient village of Acoma Pueblo — one of the oldest continuously inhabited settlements in North America. Until the last couple of years, her routine included regular visits to Sky City, the sacred mesa reserved for ceremonial gatherings and exchanging crafts.

But fatigue and shortness of breath gradually overcame her ability to climb the steps to the mesa. “I couldn’t get rid of my cough and I was constantly tired, and I just didn’t know what was wrong,” Salvador, 78, explains.

Sensing her life was in danger, Salvador visited a doctor for the first time in her life. Her niece drove her an hour away to a hospital in Albuquerque. The doctor diagnosed her with pneumonia. During her treatment, Salvador’s doctors realized she had severe rheumatic mitral valve disease — a condition causing a valve in her heart to harden and not work correctly.

The heart specialists in Albuquerque suggested a high-risk open-heart surgery. This would require cutting through Salvador's chest and breaking her breastbone to access her heart.

Salvador decided she need to do her own research. “My first step was to define for myself what we were talking about,” she says. “In the process I educated myself on the mitral valve, what it does and how important it is.”

She and her daughter Cindy poured themselves into finding what options were available. Salvador made it her goal to find the best course of treatment.

With two daughters living in Oregon, Salvador’s research led her to Northwest Regional Heart and Vascular, which is well-known for excellent outcomes in minimally invasive valve surgery. She learned how robotic-assisted surgery would keep her breastbone intact.

Salvador also found Thomas Molloy, the medical director of cardiothoracic surgery for Adventist Health Portland. Having performed more than 2,000 valve procedures, Molloy was the provider Salvador knew she could trust for the first surgery of her life.

Salvador’s decision proved to be the right one. “I thought I was going to be in a lot of pain, but I have no pain at all,” she says. “At first I found it hard to believe I would be able to be up and around in two to three days. I am amazed by this procedure.”

With her own heart healed, Salvador is on a mission to share her experience with her Native community so they know they have options for their health care. She believes this is the reason for what she’s gone through.

For Salvador’s Adventist Health Portland team, her goal is a beautiful extension of their own mission to live God’s love by inspiring health, wholeness and hope to people and communities both near and far.

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