Meet the Survivors: Bonnie

My name is Bonnie Sawyer and I am 70 years old. I am a retired teacher and my husband and I have three sons and have been blessed with 5 beautiful grandchildren.

The first time I realized I had a problem with my heart was in 2000. I was teaching at an elementary school in Kent, and it was close to the end of the school year. For about three weeks, I had been experiencing some shortness of breath, and my heart was fluttering and skipping beats. I thought it was just because the end of a school year is always busy, and I was tired. I was diagnosed with atrial fibrillation and was put on metropolol, a beta blocker. This controlled my atrial fibrillation for 11 years with only a few episodes.

Then one night in 2011, I thought I was possibly having a heart attack. I was experiencing shortness of breath and I had pain between my shoulder blades. I knew that women experience a heart attack differently than men do, so we headed to the hospital.

They did several tests and an echocardiogram. I was not having a heart attack, but the echo showed that my aortic heart valve was getting bad. I had a pressure gradient of 25 and was told to have an echocardiogram repeated in one year. The following year the pressure gradient was 50, and my cardiologist told me that I would probably have to have the valve replaced within the next 10 years. When I repeated the echo a year later in 2013, the pressure gradient was 65, and I was told that I would have to have the valve replaced within 2 or 3 years.

Then in March of 2014, I went in for my echo and the pressure gradient was now 81—which is considered severe. My cardiologist said that I needed to have the surgery done very soon, and it was scheduled 3 weeks later. I did not completely understand what pressure gradient was. My oldest son is a cardiologist at NW Hospital in Seattle. He explained to me that it was like taking a garden hose and squeezing it until the water was under so much pressure it would shoot out. Basically, the pressure that my heart was under trying to get the blood out of my poorly working aortic valve and out to my body was about double what my blood pressure was.

My biggest fear when I knew I was going to have open heart surgery was that I would not be able to see my grandchildren grow up. I was scared, but I was grateful to have a lot of people praying for me. The day of the surgery, I could really feel the power of prayer, and I felt very peaceful.

My recovery taught me to appreciate so many things. You don’t realize how many things you take for granted that you are able to do in life, until you are no longer able to do them. It was a small victory when I was finally able to get in and out of bed without pain after my surgery. A real highlight for me was when I was able to lift up my youngest granddaughter without someone helping me.

I have always eaten healthy from our huge garden and exercised a lot. But now, at the age of 70, I am so grateful every day to once more be able to exercise, work in my flowers, cook from our garden, and play with my grandchildren. I am grateful for a heart that now beats strong and steady, and I never take a day for granted.

I am very nervous about the Gene Juarez Fall Fashion Show, but grateful for the opportunity to do something that I have never done, and never imagined myself doing.

God has given me the gift of life with my new heart valve. I must honor that gift by continuing to eat healthy and exercise so that I can continue to volunteer and do God’s work, and especially so that I can be healthy enough to enjoy my husband, my children, my 5 beautiful grandchildren and my extended family and friends for as long as I can. That is what Living a Beautiful Life means to me!

See Bonnie and our nine other survivors walk the runway at the GJ Fall Event ‘Live Life Beautifully on November 12, 2014 at EMP Seattle. All proceeds benefit The Hope Heart Institute and Northwest heart health education. Tickets are on sale through November 9. Buy your ticket online today at