Detroit (CBS Detroit) – She was a rising High School basketball star with several offers from colleges. Candice Tarter was only 16 when rheumatic fever led to serious heart issues, and four open-heart surgeries over the next 12 years.

It was a devastating blow. Tarter had dreamed of taking her high school basketball talent to the college level, and several schools had been actively pursuing her.

“My sophomore year of high school I was very active, and going into my 11th-grade year I started getting really tired during the basketball season,” explains Candice. “My mom realized something was wrong and she took me to the doctor just between seasons.”

“As I went in, immediately they heard a (heart) murmur, so they sent me up to cardiology and they took an echo-cardiogram and said my heart was three times the size it’s supposed to be. So I needed to have surgery immediately, and it was kind of heartbreaking because I had been playing basketball since 3rd grade.”

“In my junior year of college I had surgery again, and September of 2017 I started having fainting spells. I went to U of M Hospital where they did their own scans, and they discovered I was bleeding into my chest, so one wrong move and the pocket could burst and I could bleed to death.”

“An echo-cardiogram showed the free-floating blood around the aortic root,” explains Dr. Bo Yang, Michigan Medicine Cardiac Surgeon. “With all this reconstruction she basically now has a normally functioning heart, normal blood flow to the heart, and a normal functioning mechanical valve…her second one! Those are supposed to last for a long time. If she will take care of this valve, it should last her 40, 50, 60 years!”

Although her life took an unexpected path, today Tarter is living another dream.  The strong, determined 28-year-old woman is a teacher at Detroit’s Marion Law Academy, where she encourages her 5th-grade students to be responsible for their own actions, education, and life — lessons she herself has learned the hard way.  Adds Dr. Yang, “she is a great example of a fighter, to fight this disease, get better, and contribute to the community.”

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