Harris’ heart problems began in 2011, when at age 32 she was misdiagnosed with post-partum cardiomyopathy a few weeks after giving birth to her third child. Subsequent testing a few weeks later showed she actually had a rare congenital heart defect called non-compaction. The only treatment option for the defect was a full heart transplant.
While waiting in the hospital for a suitable donor, Harris underwent emergency open heart surgery to implant an LVAD (left ventricular assist device) to help her heart beat. And then, a week later, she had a second emergency open heart surgery to remove a blood clot that had developed between her heart and the pump.
Finally, a week before Christmas of 2011, she received her new heart. After nearly nine months in the hospital, she was able to return home to her family in January of 2012.
“Each one of my kids said for Christmas, all they wanted was for me to get a heart,” Harris said in a 2012 interview with the AHA. “They’re like, ‘we just want you to get a heart so you can come home.’”
But 10 months later, Harris was again hospitalized and fighting for her life after her body rejected the donor heart. After undergoing an emergency procedure, receiving multiple treatments and medications, she was recovering since her release from the hospital on Nov. 7, 2012.
She was on the road to a full recovery until Friday, when she died from heart complications after being admitted to a Denver hospital.
Throughout her travails, Harris remained an ardent supporter of women’s heart health. In a guest column Harris wrote last year for the Huffington Post, she said she was a proud national volunteer for Go Red For Women, the American Heart Association’s national movement to end heart disease, the leading cause of death in women.
“I am passionate about telling as many women as I can to fight for their health and speak up when something doesn’t feel right. Fight to be heard, fight for a correct diagnosis and fight to beat all odds,” she wrote. “I want more women to pay attention to any changes in their health and see as many doctors as necessary to be sure their voice is heard.”
Last year, she was one of 11 women selected to help Go Red celebrate the 10th anniversary of National Wear Red Day and kick off the movement’s 10th anniversary. In her hometown of Denver, she’s been referred to as “Ms. Go Red”, a Rock Star Volunteer, by local AHA staff members.
Harris is survived by her husband, Irving Harris, and three children—two daughters and a son.
Learn more about Rekisha Harris’s story in this video from 2012: