Amy Velderman was born with a congenital heart defect in 1960, when heart surgery was not an option for babies. “At first they told my parents that I’d probably die before I was a year old,” she says. “Then they said I’d probably die before I reached school age.”
Instead, Velderman had her first heart surgery at age 9, and she says it gave her a whole new life: “I learned to ride a bike at age 16, and I learned to swim in college.” Following another surgery at age 18, Velderman finished college, earned a master’s degree, began a career as an audiologist, got married, and adopted a son.
Then, during a routine checkup in 1999, her doctor discovered that Velderman was heading back into heart failure. Undeterred, she and her husband trusted that they would find a solution. “I’ve always had a strong faith,” she says. Eventually, they found their way to a surgeon who was, at the time, the top name in congenital heart treatment, and Velderman underwent a then-state-of-the-art procedure to strengthen her heart.
“But it didn’t work,” Velderman says. “And the surgeon told me that if the procedure didn’t work then, it never would.”
She and her husband kept their faith and kept looking for other options. “My goal has always been to avoid transplant for as long as possible,” Velderman says, and, with help, that strategy has worked. She recalls that when she met UT Southwestern cardiologist Elizabeth Brickner, M.D., she knew she’d found another miracle.
Dr. Brickner crafted a new plan of care to allow Velderman to live her fullest possible life, and the plan proved life-changing. “Back in 1999, the surgeon told my husband that I probably had 10 more years left with my own heart,” she says. Nearly 20 years later, she’s still going strong. “I teach Bible study in several locations, I go to my Jazzercise classes – even if I’m wearing an oxygen mask, I’m still doing it.
“I’ve had doctors in my life who I know were God’s gift,” Velderman says, “and Dr. Brickner has got to be the biggest gift of all.”