Meet Brandy | Ryan Shazier's 50 Phenoms Podcast

Brandy was thrilled to be pregnant with her third child, and first girl. But late in her third trimester, the pregnancy took a scary twist: She was diagnosed with a rare, life-threatening heart failure. A transplant saved her life, and the love of her family motivated her through her recovery. Find out more about Brandy’s story in the fourth episode of “Ryan Shazier’s 50 Phenoms.”

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Announcer: Phenomenal journey, phenomenal story. Next, on “Ryan Shazier’s 50 Phenoms” … from heart failure to happy family.

Brandy Sweeney: They came into the room and my husband and I were sitting there, and they said, “You’re in congestive heart failure.”

Announcer: In this episode of “50 Phenoms,” Ryan Shazier talks with Brandy Sweeney. When Brandy was eight months pregnant, she was diagnosed with a rare heart condition that threatened her life.

Brandy Sweeney: They told me the diagnosis was peripartum cardiomyopathy, and that is heart failure due to pregnancy. I didn’t even know that was a thing.

Ryan Shazier: A lot of times when you have a really positive mindset and understand that, hey, something great can come out of this, something better can come out of this, it normally does.

Announcer: She had to leave her whole world behind in West Virginia to undergo a life-saving heart transplant at UPMC in Pittsburgh.

Ryan Shazier: So, Brandy, when I first heard about your story, I thought it was truly amazing what you went through. So can you please tell me a little bit about your family?

Brandy Sweeney: Prior to all this happening, I had two young boys. They were at the time, only 3 (years old) and 18 months. We were pretty typical. It was my husband, two boys. We’re very active in our community. Just everyday life, going with the punches, and then finally we were like, “Woo hoo, I’m pregnant with a girl!” So I was really excited about that.

Ryan Shazier: Yeah, so I know you were just really excited about having a daughter. My wife told me that people go through different symptoms when they have a boy or a girl. So were you noticing anything different?

Brandy Sweeney: Well, I’ll tell you, I was one of those people: I always loved being pregnant. I just think, I don’t know, I always felt good, people were so nice to you and complimentary. But with my daughter, it did feel different from the beginning. And I thought, well, maybe it’s because it’s a girl and they always say girls suck the beauty out of you. I thought maybe that’s what it was. Later I found out that wasn’t the case. For several months, I would lay awake at night, and I wouldn’t be able to sleep because I couldn’t lay flat and I would cough. Oh my gosh, the cough was terrible. My husband said it just sounded like it was coming from my toes and I was just constantly coughing. The doctors had said that it was allergies, and I’ve never been a person that was sick. Never. Tylenol was the most I’d even take.

Brandy Sweeney: There was one day I finally woke up, and I was just so completely swollen and I’m like, “Something is not right at all.” It just so happened it was on my oldest son’s fourth birthday. I said, “Well, we’ll have to go to the doctor and find out what the heck’s going on.” And I said, “But we have to go to church first because he has to put it in his birthday pennies.”

Ryan Shazier: Yeah.

Brandy Sweeney: And then we had to have his birthday party and all that good stuff. So after that, I went to the hospital to find out what was going on. (I expected) something simple — I was just retaining too much fluid — but it ended up it was a lot worse than that.

Ryan Shazier: When you went to the emergency room, what did you find out?

Brandy Sweeney: Well, I went straight up to the OB. The first thing I did was go to the emergency room in my local area, and we kind of were waiting a while and I wanted to get home to my kids. So I said, “OK, let’s just go to the hospital where I would deliver her anyway.” So once I got there I went straight to OB and they ran some blood work and all that good stuff. Then they came into the room and my husband and I were sitting there, and they said, “You’re in congestive heart failure.” And then they kind of like walked out.

Brandy Sweeney: I looked at my husband, and I just started bawling because I’m like, “What the heck? I am just pregnant. I am not in congestive heart failure and dying.” He made them come back and like talk to us, and it was kind of scary because here I was not having a clue. I’m thinking I’m about to have a baby, and you’re telling me that I have a heart problem and I could die. It was a scary moment.

Ryan Shazier: Yeah, I know. It’s scary. A lot of times when you first get some news, they would just come in there, give it to you, and run out.

Brandy Sweeney: Yeah.

Ryan Shazier: You’re like, “Whoa, I need a little more information.” This is a big moment in my life. After you found out about that, what was the process after that?

Brandy Sweeney: Well, they finally told me the diagnosis was peripartum cardiomyopathy, and that is heart failure due to pregnancy. I didn’t even know that was a thing and most people don’t even realize, but it is a rare condition. After that, they kind of started making a plan. And I live in a smaller area, so they don’t see a lot of this.

Brandy Sweeney: One of the nurses that took care of me said I was only the second person she had ever seen, and she had been a nurse for like 30 years. She assured me that I was going to be better than the first case she saw. They made a plan and I went ahead and delivered my daughter. She was just five weeks early, but she was completely healthy. She was about five pounds, so I’m like, “Good thing I didn’t go full term. She could’ve been a horse.”

Brandy Sweeney: They took her to ICU because she was born early, and then I remember I just started shaking uncontrollably. My best friend had even said that she could hear my teeth chattering, and they were like, “We need to take her to ICU.” I was up there for a few days. And I had told them, “You’re not a heart hospital. If something’s not right with me and you guys can’t fix me, get the heck out of here. I need to be somewhere where they can.” After a few days in ICU, that’s when they decided to send me to UPMC.

Ryan Shazier: What was the decision to have your daughter early?

Brandy Sweeney: The doctors decided that she was fine, so they wanted to go ahead and take her and start working on me to make certain that I could live. It was really scary for my husband at the time because before he ever even met me, when he was younger, he used to always have this fear that his wife was going to die in childbirth. This whole situation, he was like kind of freaking out a little bit. I was in good hands.

Ryan Shazier: That’s amazing. The hospital, your husband, and everybody just took control of the situation, and you were in the best hands. After your daughter was born, how did you guys handle everything?

Brandy Sweeney: It was a little scary because of the unknown, and where I’m from, there’s a lot of babies that are there in the NICU that are born to mothers that have been on drugs. And so that was one of my fears. I was like, if I leave my baby here and go to Pittsburgh, what are people going to think of my baby? She’s going to be all alone. That was my husband’s hardest decision was, go to Pittsburgh with his dying wife, or stay with our newborn baby?

Brandy Sweeney: He did opt to go with me because we knew that she was in good hands and we had family that would go see my daughter while she was in the NICU and it was a time in my daughter’s life that she would never remember again. But she was loved on by the nurses and family members, and he chose to come with me.

Ryan Shazier: I know that was a really hard decision for him.

Brandy Sweeney: Yeah.

Ryan Shazier: So how did you guys end up coming up with that decision? Because I know that is the one decision either way, he couldn’t have been wrong.

Brandy Sweeney: Right. I think he just knew that he needed to be there for me because he had decided when we took those vows that was for better or for worse, sickness and health. We definitely went through the sickness part because we’d only been married just five years. We’ve nailed the sickness part, so now we’re ready for the health part. But he made that decision because he loved me and he wanted to stay with me, and he knew that her grandparents would take care of her.

Ryan Shazier: That’s truly amazing. So, Brandy, when did you have to find out that you had to use the LVAD?

Brandy Sweeney: I had been at UPMC for several weeks. They were hoping that medicine would help my heart, but after several weeks and all the testing, we realized that it wasn’t. So they decided to do the LVAD, left ventricular assist device, and decided that that was the best thing for me at that time. They were hoping after a couple months with the LVAD, that maybe my heart would heal and repair itself.

Brandy Sweeney: It wasn’t until about two months later when I had gone back for an appointment and they were checking and they started to turn it down, and I could tell immediately because I started having that difficulty breathing. I just started feeling really bad, like I did when I was in the hospital. They had told me that it’s going to be a bridge to transplant.

Ryan Shazier: So you found out that you were going to have to get a transplant after using that LVAD for a while?

Brandy Sweeney: Yeah, and I mean I had the LVAD just two months. There were some people that live years with it. After two months, they were like, OK, transplant. Then, I had seen there had been people that had come into my room while I was in the hospital. Well, you’d never know that they’d had a transplant. I knew that getting a new heart was probably definitely the best option for me and my active lifestyle.

Ryan Shazier: Was this after or before you had received the LVAD?

Brandy Sweeney: OK, so I had the baby, then the LVAD, and then the heart transplant.

Ryan Shazier: All right.

Brandy Sweeney: All that was within a five-month period. I figured if I could go through all of that in five months, heck, I could probably do anything.

Ryan Shazier: Yeah, you’ve got a baby, which is probably one of the hardest things that a human can do. Then you deal with having the LVAD, which is probably crazy because you had a newborn baby, which is less than two months old, and then still taking care of yourself. Then having a heart transplant, which is something that a lot of people probably are scared to even attempt or even try having, but you had to do it for your family.

Brandy Sweeney: Exactly, exactly.

Ryan Shazier: Yeah. I know that was a very crazy moment in your life.

Brandy Sweeney: Yes.

Ryan Shazier: Do you feel throughout that whole process that it was a struggle from the beginning to the surgery?

Brandy Sweeney: No, I wouldn’t say it was a struggle, per se. It was just a change in lifestyle. And I’m not going to lie: There were some days when I had the LVAD, I would just break down and cry because I felt like my life was just kind of out of control because I couldn’t just go take a shower like a normal person. I couldn’t just go wash my hair. There was one day, I remember, I was getting in my closet to find shoes, and I just broke down and started crying because it was so difficult for me to get into spaces because I had the LVAD. The wire couldn’t be pulled, and I just felt like my life was a little bit out of control — and I’m a control freak.

Ryan Shazier: Yeah.

Brandy Sweeney: There were times it was like, this is crazy, but it was keeping me alive.

Ryan Shazier: Yeah, you definitely have a test.

Brandy Sweeney: Yeah. Oh, absolutely.

Ryan Shazier: You found out that you had to have a new heart. How did that affect you?

Brandy Sweeney: When I got the call for the heart, I was very calm. We were eating lunch together, and I got the phone call and it was a 412 area code. So I knew immediately that that was the call for the heart. My husband just said I was eerily calm. He went and paid for everything, and he’d figured that’s what it was. They said, “Hey, we’ve got a heart if you’re available.” Of course I was available — I wasn’t going to go shop or anything.

Brandy Sweeney: I had prepared all this time getting ready to make certain I was ready to go when I got that call. Then I went to the daycare where my children were at the time, and at that time they were 4, 23 months, and 5 months old. That’s when I had to go in and tell them goodbye. And talk about needing major strength for me to say goodbye because I didn’t know what was going to happen.

Brandy Sweeney: I didn’t know if I would even make it through the surgery. It was the unknown to me. My daughter, she was 5 months old, she had no idea what was going on. She just kind of like, I gave her a kiss goodbye. Then my 23-month-old, he was just mad because I woke him up from the nap. But it was my 4-year-old, he’s the one that knew exactly what was going on. I just hugged him and kissed him, and I just said goodbye. Then we went to the helicopter and we came to UPMC, and the whole thing started.

Ryan Shazier: All this happened in a matter of hours? So the moment you got the call, you went straight to the daycare and had to leave immediately?

Brandy Sweeney: Yes, yes. Yeah, because I live about three-and-a-half, four hours from the hospital, and you only have a certain timeframe to get here. We had already made plans to have a helicopter take me in case. Because before, I’d had what we called my dry run. I’d had a call for a heart the week before, and it was a no-go, but we ended up having to drive because of the icing.

Ryan Shazier: Yeah.

Brandy Sweeney: That’s when I discovered my husband could be a NASCAR driver. He got here in no time, and we actually got pulled over once. So yeah, everything kind of moved rather quickly.

Ryan Shazier: OK.

Brandy Sweeney: Yeah.

Ryan Shazier: How long would you say you had to wait for the heart?

Brandy Sweeney: Oh, I was only on the list for 38 days.

Ryan Shazier: Oh, yeah.

Brandy Sweeney: Yeah. It wasn’t very long. I was very blessed.

Ryan Shazier: Yeah.

Brandy Sweeney: A lot of people have to wait a lot longer, but I was fortunate.

Ryan Shazier: When you got to UPMC, how did the procedure go?

Brandy Sweeney: Everything was absolutely wonderful. My husband spoke to the doctors immediately. The one thing he hated was the surgery actually started at like 11:00 at night. At midnight, everything rolls over and my number on the screen wasn’t up there. So he was kind of freaked out a little. He was like, “Oh my gosh, what’s going on?” So he had to keep going up and actually talking to them and finding out.

Brandy Sweeney: But when everything was said and done, he said that the doctor said that everything was wonderful. They hardly had to do anything to get my heart to start. It kind of started on its own. The pacer wires that they put in there, he said that I really didn’t even need them. They just had them up there because that’s just what you do, but it was a very strong heartbeat.

Brandy Sweeney: When I woke up, oh my goodness. I could totally feel that heart. I mean, it was so strong. And even to this day, I’ll just sit there and I’ll feel the pulses in my legs and all this stuff because it’s just so strong compared to what I was living with.

Ryan Shazier: So what was life like before the procedure? What did you have to deal with? What was helping you pump your heart?

Brandy Sweeney: OK, so I had an LVAD put in, which is a left ventricular assist device, and that was just a pump that went into my heart. Then a drive line came out, and it was connected to a controller and two batteries. Those batteries last about six to eight hours, depending on how active I was. Of course, with my heart only working at 8 percent, I wasn’t major active. I wasn’t running anywhere.

Ryan Shazier: Yeah, yeah.

Brandy Sweeney: It’s attached to you 24/7. It was like a seven-pound bag I carried around with me all the time. I couldn’t get it wet. I had to be very careful because if they would tug on that wire, it could potentially like come out with a little bit of my skin. It was not the best lifestyle.

Ryan Shazier: Yeah.

Brandy Sweeney: But it was what I was given.

Ryan Shazier: Right.

Brandy Sweeney: And I was living until the new heart came.

Ryan Shazier: Wow, that’s amazing. I know, especially with kids, sometimes I’ll be getting IVs and things, and my 10-month-old, whenever they see a wire, they’re quick to pull it. I know it was a little difficult for you at first, but that’s amazing that you were able to fight through it. So how long did your procedure take?

Brandy Sweeney: The procedure itself, I honestly don’t even know. I don’t know. My husband would know that because he’s the one that sat through it, but I think it was anywhere like eight hours, around eight hours.

Ryan Shazier: Wow, that’s amazing. I think mine was around eight to 10 hours. With you being from West Virginia, how did you hear about UPMC?

Brandy Sweeney: Well, when I was in the hospital in my local area, I had been in the ICU after I’d had my daughter, and they knew since it was a heart condition that that was not the hospital I needed to be at. The ICU doctor had actually given me two choices, and at first, I thought I was going to go to the one closer to me. And then finally, he was like, “Nope, not even an option anymore. You’re going to UPMC.”

Ryan Shazier:  Wow, that’s amazing.

Brandy Sweeney: Then once I got there, they kept saying, “You’re in the right place, you’re in the right place.” I said, “Let me make that decision once this is all said and done.” But in the end, I definitely was in the right place.

Ryan Shazier: You know, I got hurt in Cincinnati. What’s crazy with me and your story is I actually got flown a helicopter from Cincinnati to Pittsburgh.

Brandy Sweeney: Oh, OK.

Ryan Shazier: Yeah. I think you said it’s about three hours for you to get here. Cincinnati might be a little longer. Probably like five hours, but being on the helicopter, it felt like forever.

Brandy Sweeney: Yeah. Yes, it did.

Ryan Shazier: Especially in a critical moment like that. I know that it just was an amazing time just to be able to actually get here and be here. Then they also gave me the options when I got here, if I wanted to do treatment here, if I wanted to go other places, be closer to home in Florida. I couldn’t complain about UPMC at all. I’m completely grateful that I actually came here.

Brandy Sweeney: Oh, absolutely.

Ryan Shazier: What was your rehab like?

Brandy Sweeney: I was honestly pretty fortunate. I did have to stay in town. They had said I was going to have to stay here for like two or three weeks. And I was here for maybe a week, a little less than a week. They finally said, “You know what? Go ahead and go home.” I’m like, “OK.” I didn’t get to see my kids for a while, so I was totally fine with that. I never had to have the cardiac rehab or anything like that, and they said, “It’s because you have three kids.” They absolutely were my rehab.

Ryan Shazier: OK.

Brandy Sweeney: They did not care that mommy had a new heart. They were like, “Hey, I’m thirsty, I’m hungry. Mommy, I need this. I need that.” So I did have home health come. I had physical therapy at home, and I was released from physical therapy earlier than I was supposed to because I was doing so well.

Ryan Shazier: OK.

Brandy Sweeney: So, and it was just a matter, I mean, it wasn’t like they weren’t expecting me to run marathons.

Ryan Shazier: Right.

Brandy Sweeney: But walking several blocks distance, they were happy with that.

Ryan Shazier: How did your husband and your kids act in this whole procedure and this whole process with you being out of town for so long and you having surgery and things like that?

Brandy Sweeney: Well, my husband was by my side the entire time. He was my rock star. He was there for everything, and he never showed emotion. He was there for me the whole time. We would pray together. We cried a little bit together, but we knew that God had it. It wasn’t like it was too bad, but he would go off when I was in bed. Or he’d say he had to go take a shower, and then that’s when he would break down. But he was a rock star when he was with me. Now, my kids, at the time we would Skype.

Ryan Shazier: Yeah.

Brandy Sweeney: They missed mommy, and they came up here a couple of times to see me, and they’d crawl in bed with me and all that good stuff. When I got home, I can vividly remember, no one had moved their cars in front of my house. So I had to walk almost a block to get to my house anyway. I’m like, “Thanks, guys.” They’re like, “Oh yeah, no problem.”

Brandy Sweeney: I walk up the steps, and my middle child was looking out the window. He had just turned 2 years old the day I got out of the hospital. I remember the squeal when he saw me. I mean, it was just pure delight, and he’s like, “Mommy, mommy, mommy.” I opened the door and they were just all over me.

Ryan Shazier: That’s amazing. Kids can always bring joy, especially in a time of trial. I know you were so happy to be back in, especially since it was his second birthday. Just to be there for that also.

Brandy Sweeney: Yes, yeah.

Ryan Shazier: My wife and my family were so strong for me. Because I was in the hospital, I wish it was two weeks, but it was more like two months. I was in the hospital for that time, and every time I was with everybody, everybody would seem happy. I tried to stay as positive as possible. But a lot of times everybody would tell me my dad and my wife, when they weren’t around me, that’s when they would break down and cry. My dad told me he almost cried 10 times a day, and that’s like one of the strongest people I know.

Brandy Sweeney: Right.

Ryan Shazier: I was like, I’ve never seen him cry once, like in my whole life almost. Just for him to be able to be that strong for me and just to see that your husband was that strong for you just shows how important family is.

Brandy Sweeney: Oh, absolutely. If it weren’t for them, I would’ve not been able to make it.

Ryan Shazier: How did you like the doctors?

Brandy Sweeney: They were absolutely amazing. When I first got to the hospital, I felt like I saw tons of people. I joked that I needed business cards with their pictures so I could remember who was who. There was one point the transplant team came in, and I just laughed because I’m like, “Thanks for coming to visit me. I’m not going to need you.” But it ended up I had the surgeon that put my LVAD in. He was absolutely amazing.

Brandy Sweeney: When I got the call, he’s the one that said no to that heart because he said it wasn’t perfect for me. And he said he loved me too much and knew that I had my three children that he was thinking about, and that’s why he said no because he wanted the perfect one.

Brandy Sweeney: Then it was a different doctor for the real heart, and I was freaking out. I’m like, “Oh my gosh, it’s not Dr. (Robert) Kormos.” They said, “It’s OK. It’s OK. Dr Luigi (Lagazzi Garros), he’s nice.” I said, “I don’t care about nice. I want someone that’s good.” Oh, he’s good, he’s good. Afterward I met him, and he was absolutely wonderful. I actually just like became friends with one of my doctors on Facebook. Just everyone — the doctors, the nurses, everyone — was so wonderful, and I felt like I wasn’t just like a number there.

Ryan Shazier: Right.

Brandy Sweeney: I was truly someone that they cared about.

Ryan Shazier: Did you have to visit them when you were in West Virginia? Did you have to fly to Pittsburgh or drive to Pittsburgh, or sometimes did you talk over the phone?

Brandy Sweeney: My husband and I would always come up for appointments.

Ryan Shazier: Okay.

Brandy Sweeney: Of course, in the beginning it was like every week, then every other week. Then every month. Now, luckily, I only have to come twice a year, but the one visit mainly is like a social call. All we do is talk, and there’s people that will come into my room that haven’t met me yet, and they’re like, “Oh, I’m so glad to finally meet you, Brandy. I feel like you’re so famous. We all talk about you all the time.” They are, they’re just like my family.

Ryan Shazier: I can definitely relate. One of my doctors, he’s also the team neurologist. Sometimes I go to his office, or sometimes we’ll be on a phone call together and we’ll just talk. His son actually has like a project coming up for school, and I  might be one of the people that’s helping them with his project. I can definitely see how you build a relationship with your doctors. I felt like UPMC has wonderful doctors, but they’re also wonderful people. So it’s really easy to relate with them. I’m truly glad that we both were able to have UPMC for our rehab and for our treatment.

Brandy Sweeney: When I had the LVAD put in, it was mine and my husband’s five-year wedding anniversary.

Ryan Shazier: Really?

Brandy Sweeney: Which I made him wait a couple of days because I didn’t want to do it on my anniversary.

Ryan Shazier: Yeah.

Brandy Sweeney: The nurses had actually gone out and gotten us a meal so that we could actually have an anniversary meal together.

Ryan Shazier: That’s amazing.

Brandy Sweeney: It was pretty cool.

Ryan Shazier: Yeah, that’s amazing. How do you feel life is now that you have your own heart and with your kids and your husband, how is life going now?

Brandy Sweeney: Busy, just as I had expected it would be. Nobody looks at me like, “Oh, poor Brandy. She had a heart transplant.” Which is what I wanted. I didn’t want anybody to feel pity for me at all. God gave me this new heart because he knew that I needed it to keep up with my three kids.

Ryan Shazier: Right.

Brandy Sweeney: They are in everything, every sport, just activities, and life is great. I’m rarely home.

Ryan Shazier: So you feel back to normal?

Brandy Sweeney: Oh yes, absolutely. Now I’m a little – OK,  I’m a lot heavier than I was then, but that’s OK. Eventually I’ll lose the weight.

Ryan Shazier: I promise you it’s OK. So your kids were your motivation. Were there any other things that motivated you to get better?

Brandy Sweeney: Well, my kids and my husband were definitely a huge factor because I wanted to make certain that my kids grew up with a mom. I knew I had to fight through the entire process to make certain I was here for them. Also my community was motivation. I come from a community that is very loving and giving, and they supported me throughout the entire journey.

Brandy Sweeney: I do a lot of community service work in my hometown. I needed to make certain that I got back to that. I do like a toys for kids program for the needy children in my county. I’m a director of a pageant. I do a lot of things for other people, and I knew that those people also rely on me.

Ryan Shazier: Right.

Brandy Sweeney: So I had to make certain I got well for them as well.

Ryan Shazier: That’s crazy because, you know, I love football and I love my team. My family was my biggest motivation, but my love for football and my team was also a huge motivation for me. Just to be back out there with them, just to get better and keep working, that was one of the biggest these motivations to help me get back. So, Brandy, what do you feel was the biggest struggle through this whole process?

Brandy Sweeney: I was very blessed in the fact that I never had rejection. I healed rather quickly. And I would see stories where other people struggled more, but I didn’t have that. I think my biggest struggle was just the not being with my children during that time and making certain that I did recover to be there for them. Your way of life changes a little bit.

Ryan Shazier: Right.

Brandy Sweeney: At first I kind of struggled with that part, and even maybe the first time I saw the scar on my chest. I’d worn a shirt that was in a V, and I’m like, “Oh my gosh, I look so different.” Now I don’t even think a thing about it. I know that just seems vain like in the grand scheme. It really doesn’t mean anything. You can’t eat at buffets, or when you’re at church or at a wedding and they have a buffet style, I always either go first or my husband goes to the back and gets me extra food. Just the way of life was a little bit of an adjustment, but I wouldn’t say necessarily a struggle.

Ryan Shazier: Even at the beginning when you first found out, you didn’t feel like it was a struggle for you?

Brandy Sweeney: To be completely honest, I really didn’t from the beginning. I just put it all in God’s hands, and he gave me the strength to do what I needed to do. So I didn’t feel like it was a struggle.

Ryan Shazier: I’ve been doing the same thing.

Brandy Sweeney: Yeah.

Ryan Shazier: So I can completely understand where you’re coming from.

Brandy Sweeney: Yeah.

Ryan Shazier: If you had some advice for somebody that had to deal with a heart transplant or going through what you have gone through, what would be some advice you’d give them?

Brandy Sweeney: I would absolutely say to stay positive. I think your attitude has a lot to do with the entire situation. I think it has everything to do with how quickly you recover. My faith (was) a big part in it all. I think that people need to rely on their families and just have a good support system. And just know that everything’s going to get better. Things change, your way of life changes a little bit, but all in all, it’s all worth it.

Ryan Shazier: Right. I feel like one of the biggest things for me was just the positivity. I feel like people take that for granted. They don’t appreciate that enough. A lot of times people, when a situation happens to them, they get really negative about it. They jump to conclusions really fast, and they always think worst-case scenario.

Ryan Shazier: I feel like a lot of times when you have a really positive mindset and understand that, hey, something great can come out of this, something better can come out of this, it normally does. It might not be the outcome that you wanted at first.

Brandy Sweeney: Right.

Ryan Shazier: But something positive definitely can come out of it. I feel like that’s truly my mindset when it comes to rehab, when it comes to struggle, when it comes to any challenge. You have to have a really positive mindset. I think that is what helped both of us get through what we’ve gone through.

Brandy Sweeney: Absolutely. I even had my nurses and stuff, they all call me and they’re like, “You guys are so positive.” We decided from the beginning we could go sit over there in the corner and cry about it, but that wasn’t going to help anything. Or we could just stay positive and know that it was going to help.

Ryan Shazier: I’m Ryan Shazier. I want to thank you for listening to my “50 Phenoms” podcast. On my next podcast, I have local rapper Julian Cann. He’s using his music to shed light on sickle cell disease, and his message is winning fans all over the country. Follow along with me by visiting Sign up to receive our emails and texts alerts too.

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About Heart and Vascular Institute

The UPMC Heart and Vascular Institute has long been a leader in cardiovascular care, with a rich history in clinical research and innovation. As one of the first heart transplant centers in the country and as the developer of one of the first heart-assist devices, UPMC has contributed to advancing the field of cardiovascular medicine. We strive to provide the most advanced, cutting-edge care for our patients, treating both common and complex conditions. We also offer services that seek to improve the health of our communities, including heart screenings, free clinics, and heart health education. Find an expert near you.