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A New Heart and a Chance at Motherhood 

Ambracia Jewell, 39, owner of a housekeeping business, married, mother of Briar Lewis Chatman, 3. 

The first signs of heart problems came out of the blue, when Ambracia was just a little girl. “I was six and I came down with flu-like symptoms,” she says. “They suddenly worsened and I swallowed my tongue and couldn’t breathe, and I started having seizures. My dad had to perform CPR before they raced me to the hospital.”

Ambracia Jewell

A diagnosis of meningitis led to spinal taps, even as little Ambracia was still seizing. After many tests and a tremendous amount of observation, she received the one-in-ten million diagnosis of Stokes-Adams syndrome, which happens when the electrical signals that control your heart rate are interrupted. It’s a condition that usually affects much older people, and not with the acute severity that Ambracia experienced. “At the time, they said that I had made medical books,” she says. While Ambracia attended school and had a normal childhood in many ways, she also endured many tests, trials and medications until she went into congestive heart failure at just 15. By the time she was in college, Ambracia had a pacemaker. 

At 15, she also met Chad, the love of her life, and by the time they were in their 20s, the two were talking about starting a family. “I always knew I wanted to be a mother,” she says. This was true even though her cardiologist had told her, after her pacemaker surgery, that giving birth would not be possible. “It was a hard pill to swallow,” she says. “We talked about adopting. We talked about fostering. We got to the point where I almost thought we were going to be able to bring a baby home, but it fell through.” 

Ironically, a heart transplant made motherhood possible. In 2008, after her heart disease progressed to a point where she was diagnosed with restrictive cardiomyopathy – a condition with a five-year life expectancy, her cardiologist advocated to get her on the transplant list at Jewish Hospital (now the UofL Health – Heart Hospital.) She got her heart in two months. “I was actually relieved,” she says. “I kind of grew up knowing that I would have procedures and I trusted my doctors.” On the morning of an ice storm, she got the call that a heart was coming by helicopter from Texas. She calmly packed her suitcase and Chad drove her to the hospital. “My coordinator called and told me everyone would be ready for me,” she says. “I knew my team. I knew the best thing I could do was take this step by step and trust them.” 

Eleven years later, Ambracia achieved her dream of motherhood – giving birth to son Briar Lewis Chatman on September 17, 2019 at UofL Health – UofL Hospital. “You should have seen my room; I felt like half the hospital came to visit because they all knew me,” she laughs. “People think it’s not possible to have a baby after a heart transplant, but it is. I run a housekeeping business, run around after my son… I have everything in life that matters.”