Riya Burke is a member of this year's "Go Red Survivor Class." She may only be 20-years-old, but she's no stranger to the American Heart Association or heart issues.

Riya shares her story with us because she wants people to realize that even though someone is young, they can still have serious heart (and lung) issues, but they can also still live a healthy life.

She was just 8-years-old when she was diagnosed with a heart issue dealing with an artery that connects the heart to the lung. She says,

I was just really sick. I was coughing all the time, I couldn't get better. They did a lot of testing, scans, everything like that...

That's when doctors looked at her heart and found the problem.

Riya says she remembers her mother crying while talking with the doctor. The doctor had told her parents that because of this condition, Riya would not be able to have children. A few years after her diagnosis, Riya was a Red Cap Ambassador for the Heart Run and Walk, and going through that made her realize how serious her health issue actually is.

Her whole life, Riya has had to take special precautions to keep herself healthy. She explains,

I have to cover my chest whenever I'm out in the cold. Anything to really make my lung stronger, since I'm only living on my right lung.
Then I would go from school to dance to soccer practice. I was really always on the move. It was really always about keeping that one lung strong.

Now that she's a little older, her mother always wants her to go to the gym and keep living that active lifestyle, so her lung stays healthy and strong. In the video (above), Riya mentions she looks up to runners and always wanted to be a runner, but can't because of her condition. Even with limitations, living a normal life is very important to her. She says,

I always push myself to do what other people can do and not let my one pulmonary artery effect my life...

Riya also has some great advice for anyone with heart issues (or any health issues for that matter). She says "your disease does not define you." She's right, and she's proof of that. Just because she has a disease, she doesn't let it take over her life. She still tries to live a normal life.

The video wraps up with Riya explaining her "why." The Go Red for Women campaign asks you to find your "why." What do you want to be around for? Who do you want to be around for? This is your "why." This is why preventative action and taking care of your heart is important... Your "why." See Riya's "why" in the video (at the top of this page).

Coming up in May is a very special event, the “Go Red for Women Luncheon” at Daniele’s Banquet Specialists in New Hartford. It will be an afternoon of survivor stories (and the entire “2017 Survivor Class” will be featured), heart attack and disease information, and will bring awareness to women’s heart health. Please join us for luncheon on Wednesday, May 3rd from noon to 1pm.





More From WIBX 950