Diet, exercise help Leesburg woman with end-stage heart failure improve heart function

tammy goddard
Out driving around “living life” after spending most of the past 20 years doing little more than going to work and returning home to go to bed, Tammy Goddard says she was celebrating the weight loss she achieved during the pandemic. At home and not working because of COVID-19, she decided to improve her survival odds and quality of life through diet and exercise.

tammy goddard
This 2018 photo was taken after Tammy Goddard’s fourth defibrillator/pacemaker surgery; her two children Ever and Trent are on the left; she is in the middle and her brother Bobby and niece Kira are on the right.

tammy goddard
Tammy Goddard attends a #teamtammy fundraiser at a local gym.

tammy goddard
This 2017 photo was taken before Tammy Goddard’s second open heart surgery.

tammy goddard
tammy goddard
tammy goddard
tammy goddard
Tammy Goddard on why organ donation is an 'awesome legacy'

Pandemic-imposed isolation helped inspire a Northern Virginia woman’s diet and exercise regimen that improved her odds and quality of life after an end-stage heart failure diagnosis.

Tammy Goddard, 47 of Leesburg first began experiencing heart issues when she was 21. She’s had two open heart surgeries and four defibrillator/pacemaker surgeries.

“With all the surgeries, it wore my heart down and the last open heart surgery I had threw me into complete heart failure,” Goddard said.

She’s now dependent on what she calls a “super-deluxe” version of a combination pacemaker/defibrillator.

“I’ve got to have it on both sides. If [my heart] slows down or speeds up — it keeps my heart beating at a regular beat of 70 beats a minute. And if it stops — I get shocked,” Goddard said.

When the pandemic hit and she wasn’t working, Goddard told herself that she couldn’t just sit around and succumb to her heart condition.

“I can’t give in. My kids are too young. Now is the time,” she said.

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Surprise lunch with a bunch of Tammy Goddard’s high school classmates; #teamtammy was a hashtag and effort created to support her medical journey. (Courtesy Tammy Goddard)

Goddard began exercising every day and dropped 30 pounds. She no longer needed the CPAP machine for sleep apnea. She felt so much better that during one of her monthly doctor consultations, she requested tests be done.

Her heart function had improved by 20%.

“Nobody has 100%, but the average human has way more than 25% or even 45%,” she said.

While Goddard has taken her health into her own hands, the current pacemaker/defibrillator situation isn’t a long-term solution. She eventually will need a new heart. She’s going to need the gift of life and now considers herself an organ donation advocate.

“One person’s [organ, eye and tissue] donation can save up to eight lives and help more than 75 people’s lives get better,” she said.

“It could be the person standing next to you in the grocery store. It could be me; it could be somebody you know; it could be a total stranger,” Goddard said. “The fact is there are people waiting and dying every single day because there’s not enough organs. If you can’t take it with you and it can help save other people when you leave — what an awesome legacy.”

April is National Donate Life Month and the Washington Regional Transplant Community believes that deciding to get involved should be an easy choice.

“Like Tammy, more than 2,000 people in the metro D.C. area currently need a lifesaving organ transplant. There is no medicine or magic pill they can take to live. A transplant is the only cure, and that is why it is so crucial everyone register to be an organ donor and share your decision with your loved ones,” spokeswoman Jecoliah Daniels said. “One thing people can do to make a difference during the pandemic is to register to be a donor at”

Kristi King

Kristi King is a veteran reporter who has been working in the WTOP newsroom since 1990. She covers everything from breaking news to consumer concerns and the latest medical developments.

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