It’s no wonder that this song title connects to Ava, as after her surgery she had to find a way to survive. Not only for herself, but to raise her young daughter. She credits her survival to her healthy lifestyle before the surgery and her choices she follows these days. Now eight years later since her life was saved, Ava is the proud founder of Ava’s Heart (www.avasheart.org), a charity foundation which raises funds for other transplant patients in need, while continuing to do the things she loves, such as dancing and fitness, yoga and meditation!
You had a heart transplant a few years ago. How important is an active, healthy lifestyle?
I had a heart transplant eight years ago. Being active and having a healthy lifestyle has always been extremely important to me. As a matter of fact, it is what saved my life. I believe that exercise is key, stretching is a must and eating good, healthy food can and does affect every aspect of who you are and what you do. I would not be here today if I was not in as good shape as I had been. Dancing and working out has always been for me a place where I can let go of the outside world and connect my mind, body, and spirit. I had a rare autoimmune disease that went misdiagnosed for three months. It began with a rash and in a matter of two weeks destroyed all of my muscles. In just a few days I blew up to two hundred pounds, from one hundred ten pounds and was dead on life support. I was never expected to live and was placed on the transplant list as an experiment. I received my heart in ten days on my birthday.
Before your heart transplant you were a top contemporary jazz dancer. What fitness routines did you do to keep in shape?
I started dancing at age three and did study ballet at the Metropolitan Opera House in New York City until I was fifteen where I found dance forms that allowed me to best express myself. For me the best workout is a great dance class. I danced professionally for years in NYC.
As for other fitness routines: One of my greatest achievements was training and getting my black belt in Tae Kwon Do before my transplant of course. I also used to do a lot of Pilates, often at home in my garage. And before my transplant I taught aerobics at Voight Fitness Center and it was there that I began Spinning before it was what it is now.
What types of yoga do you practice these days along with your regular fitness routines?
I try and take out my mat almost daily and meditate and do my own sort of practice. When I do yoga, I go back to my old stomping grounds, City Yoga (in California). They teach a combination of different yoga forms. My staple workout is The Bar Method. I find that it gives me the energy of a dance class and allows me to stay strong, get stronger, stretch, and get in my cardio, all in an hour. I go to the one on Third Street (in Santa Monica, California). Many of the instructors are ex-dancers or still dancing, and they are all very well trained in the technique. It’s the sort of workout that the more you do, the deeper you go, so it’s always a challenge. It’s based upon the old Lotte Burke technique, which was a floor ballet technique used to rehab ballet dancers in the 50’s and 60’s. I take a great jazz class downtown on weekends with Kim Blank, and can be seen at various Zumba and hip-hop classes throughout the city of Los Angeles.
How difficult was it to get back into your old fitness routine after having a heart transplant?
I need to clarify something here. Most people, after having a heart transplant, are up and walking in a few days and home in about two weeks with intense clinic appointments. My situation was very different, because the disease I had destroyed all my muscles. So after being in an induced coma for two months, and once I awoke, I was still on a ventilator and trapped in my own body. I could not move a finger. None of the doctors expected me to live or at least to ever walk again. Being a dancer, or let’s say being in great shape, saved my life. It was horrible. I cannot even put into words the amount of patience, time, discipline and sheer inner strength I needed to get myself moving.
The rehab at the hospital was pretty amazing. At the start they would put me in a cardiac chair. It had a crank on the side and my physiotherapist
would turn it until he got my body standing. It was like torture. Slowly I could feel my muscle memory coming back. I was in the hospital for four months, then six weeks of rehab and went home in a wheelchair. I pushed myself hard. The most difficult thing, and it took me six months, was going from sitting to standing and from lying down to sitting up. On the other side of it all, I was fascinated how each day I could see a bit more improvement. I knew what my body needed, and it longed to stretch. My mind would tell my body to do something and it just would not – could not – do it. There were many times during my rehab that I felt I could just stop, and just be happy to be alive. However, there was no way I wasn’t going to win this battle, so I fought hard with myself.
What were your motivations to get fit again after receiving your new heart?
My motivation to live was my eleven-year-old daughter, Jade. My motivation to get fit – again my daughter Jade. There was one night when I was lying in the hospital trapped in my own body, unable to move or speak. The room was white and I was truly ready to let go. I could not take the pain and the fear, and I truly wanted to die. I looked for the light and could not find it. Everything was white, and I thanked God for my incredible life and was ready to pass on. I found myself sitting in someone’s huge palms. Then all of a sudden I smelled my daughter’s dirty hair (she used to ride horses and we would fight over her washing her hair—it stunk). I then realized I could not leave her; she kept pulling me back. So I made a pact with God. If you let me come back to being Jade’s mom again I will spend the rest of my life giving back. So I guess, even though I was not aware of it that was the beginning of Ava’s Heart. I just wanted Jade to have me the way I was before, and I wanted to see her grow up.…(more)
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