The American Heart Association’s Greater Westerly Heart Walk is near and dear to Maggie Loffredo’s heart, quite literally. Born with aortic valve stenosis, she was diagnosed with congestive heart disease when she was 6 months old. Aside from being limited when it came to participating in recreational activities and vigorous exercise, the 31-year-old Westerly resident said she had a fairly normal childhood and thankfully didn’t have any immediate complications. Even so, Loffredo and her family knew she would eventually need to have her valve repaired or replaced. A diagnosis of aortic valve stenosis means that the two flaps of the heart’s main valve are growing together, decreasing blood flow through the heart. As a kid, she would often get winded quickly when running or playing sports as her heart was having to work much harder than it should to pump blood through. “I had lots of EKGs and echocardiograms done and doctors would take measurements of the valve to monitor if it was changing or not,” she said. “It stayed pretty much the same for several years when I was young. On of the list of heart conditions, it’s certainly not the most serious but it’s something that always had to be monitored.”When she was in fifth grade, she had a balloon angioplasty. The procedure, though considered a major surgery, is minimally invasive as it’s done using a catheter. Doctors use a balloon to open up a narrowed valve in the heart, in this case, Loffredo’s aortic valve. “They do this to hold off as long as possible on major surgery to replace the valve as that is open heart surgery,” she said. “I knew that eventually I would have to have my aortic valve replaced or repaired. After the surgery, they said I’d be good for ten years or so. Amazingly, I made it almost 20 before they had to replace my valve.”In early 2014, she underwent open heart surgery to replace her aortic valve with a cow’s valve. Because she hadn’t yet had any children and was hoping to in the future, rather than giving her a synthetic valve which would last forever but force her to go on blood thinners for the rest of her life, doctors gave her the option of either a pig or cow valve replacement. “They have aortic valves that are closest to human aortic valves,” she said. “I have a cow’s valve now and it’ll last me about 10 to 15 years. After that, I’ll have to have the surgery again and will probably get the synthetic valve so it’ll last the rest of my life.”Today, Loffredo is married, has a young child and works at a distributor for wholesale seafood in Narragansett. The older she gets, she said, the more she understands the need to be as healthy as possible so she can be a great mother, wife and friend for many years to come. She’s a firm believer that heart health matters and that although she’s been blessed to have a heart condition that doesn’t really affect her day-to-day life, she knows there are many who are not so fortunate. “I’m not on oxygen, I don’t have to see a doctor constantly for problems,” she said. “Even when I had open heart surgery, I had a great recovery. Now that I have a baby, I realize how precious life is. I’m so thankful modern medicine has come so far that doctors can take care of me and that’s why I do the heart walk every year. How could I not?”Holly Brown-Ayers, communications director for the southern New England branch of the American Heart Association said it’s stories like Loffredo’s that really bring the organization’s mission to life. “One of the things that really stood out to me is that Maggie’s doctor wanted to avoid any big surgeries for as long as possible so that science and technology could advance more to provide more options and I think her replacement with a cow valve is a testament to that,” she said. “Here at the AHA, we’re a big part of that and are always doing research to further the field along. We have so many people with similar stories and it’s just an honor to have someone like Maggie who so wholly represents our mission and what we’re working for.”The Greater Westerly Heart Walk is on Sept. 23 at 9 a.m. For more information, visit www.greaterwesterlyheartwalk.org.