WMU-Cooley 2001 graduate Nikki Filizetti Racine is Detroit Medical Center’s 2016 Epic Heart Hero. NIKKI’S STORY started on August 14, 1992. “It was a day that literally took my breath away. I was 16, cruising around Marquette, Michigan with two of my high-school girlfriends, young and carefree. We were at a stop sign when I suddenly saw headlights and everything went black. The next thing I knew, I was strapped to a stretcher, unable to see, a neck brace in place, and being placed in an ambulance.”
“I remember the doctor coming into my hospital room that evening and telling me that I was incredibly lucky: I had nearly been paralyzed from the neck down. In a matter of seconds, everything had changed. My basketball career had come to a halt, my short-term memory was drastically affected, and my freedom was gone. All that I could control was the food that I put into my mouth … or didn’t.
I regained my health, fought back from my closed-head injury, and — on September 15, 2001 — I earned my law degree. This was the first time in my life that I was truly proud of myself and what I could achieve. With the ups in life come the downs, however. Less than six years later, thanks to a root canal gone drastically wrong, I became victim to a rampant infection that ate away a large portion of my jawbone. After countless surgeries and procedures, I had to have all of my teeth pulled. This was an excruciating experience; for years, I was unable to chew and properly nourish my body and, as a result, my heart continued to weaken. I remained unaware of what my heart was going through until 2009, when my husband went to Australia on a fishing trip. A few days after he left, my heart felt like it was going to beat out of my chest.
Ironically, my husband is an ER Physician but, with him being away and unreachable, I had to take matters into my own hands: I headed to the very Emergency Room where my husband was employed. There, I learned that my immune system had been severely weakened from my dental nightmare and, as a result, my body could not fight off infection. I was diagnosed with Viral Cardiomyopathy; my heart was functioning at only 30 percent. A bicuspid aortic valve (heart murmur) was discovered during this time, making it more difficult for the weakened heart muscle to pump. My cardiologist reported that there was a 50 percent chance that I would need a valve replacement in the future.
I was so scared; I still had so much to accomplish. I desperately wanted to have children. I wanted to make a difference in the world. I took my heart health into my hands and I concentrated on my healing. Nearly two years later, an echocardiogram showed that my heart function had improved to nearly normal. My husband and I were concerned with the cardiac stress pregnancy might cause, however. After several consultations, we learned that a risk of relapse was indeed possible with pregnancy. Knowing this, we chose to create our family through adoption. We soon received a call from our adoption agency that a baby boy had been born, and we had been chosen to become his parents. My joy was indescribable: I was now a mommy. I now had another reason to remain healthy and to keep my heart happy. We have since added a beautiful little boy from Ethiopia to our family.
My husband and I continue to live a healthy lifestyle and promote wellness among our family and friends. I have completed two full marathons and numerous shorter distances, and I am currently training for my third (and bucket-list) marathon, the New York City Marathon in November 2016. In 2012, I became the Director of Fund Development and Outreach for Adoption Associates, Inc., the very agency through which we had adopted our baby boy. I’d finally found my niche. I raise funds to help other children find their forever families. I created the annual Touched by Adoption 5K Run/Walk, where we celebrate adoption while promoting a healthy lifestyle. My heart continues to remain healthy as I spread the word about living life to the fullest. I certainly have fought my way back from moments that almost took my breath away forever, and I cherish moments that create memories with each breath I take. My heart is so full.”
5,154 PRECIOUS MIRACLES“This is the remarkable number of children that Adoption Associates has placed into loving homes since its creation in 1990. Two of those beautiful souls are right here in my home. I created this 5K Run/Walk five years ago as a way to celebrate adoption, promote health and wellness, and to and bring together all those who have been “touched by adoption” and/or support our mission in some way. This is one of my favorite days of the year. Changing lives … one step at a time.”