A life, lived against the odds, now helping others

- Yvonne Franco was, for all purposes, born dead.  But her rise to see the light again can inspire us all.

"I was 2 months old when I went into cardiac arrest," she explained.  "By the time I was taken to the hospital, I was pronounced dead.  When they put the paddles on me, after a few attempts, you could hear a baby cry. And everyone in the room started cheering and hugging. That was a sign of hope and victory."

Yvonne says she was the youngest child in the U.S. with a heart disorder called Wolff Parkinson-White, in which an extra electrical pathway in the heart causes a rapid heartbeat.

She always knew she was different.  "Anytime my heart rate naturally went up, the electrical impulses would interfere and cause it to skyrocket."

Dr. Charles Lambert, medical director of the Pepin Heart Institute at Florida Hospital Tampa, says the symptoms can be debilitating.  "You're short of breath. You can't exercise as much. You just feel bad."

For Yvonne, it went beyond even that.

"I would watch people laugh and smile and I could not feel that. I would wonder if it was authentic. I saw the world through this yellow hue. It was our family secret, so we didn't talk about it. We didn't tell teachers. So, as a result, with this high dose of medication, I struggled to learn."

Yvonne didn't expect to live a long life. But she wanted a career, so right after high school, she followed her beloved brother into aviation maintenance. Then she went to college, studying to become a teacher. 

While in school, she says she met a man who would eventually change her life. A man named Joseph Lagano, who created a family foundation after losing his family in a car accident.

"We had this instant connection," she recalled. "He looked like my grandfather and I looked like his daughter who had passed in the accident."

Yvonne says the foundation paid for her surgery to fix her heart. 

"An electrophysiologist will go into a laboratory, figure out where the pathway is, track it, ablate it, and most of the time, greater than 90 percent of the patients are completely cured," Dr. Lambert explained.

"I woke up from the  surgery and the world was a different place," Yvonne recalled.  "The yellow hue I had lived with my entire life was gone. I felt warm, which I always struggled with feeling cold, and for the first time I could experience happiness."

Her life took another unexpected turn during a missionary trip for her church. The woman in charge of the school where Yvonne was volunteering told her, "I've been praying for my nephew; for someone to come help him.  He has a hole in his heart and doctors say he only has a few months left."

Yvonne felt she'd finally found her calling.  "I knew where I came from and what I'd been through, but I had no idea how to carry that torch."
 
Her previous connections in aviation led her to help with flights. She says her connections to the foundation that paid for her heart surgery lead her to doctors, who did surgery pro bono. Her life had come full circle.
Her life, lived against the odds, is now helping others live against the odds. 

"The fact you have a lens of life that makes you appreciate every second means you have a gift others don't have," she offered.

Yvonne eventually made her way to the University of Tampa, where she now teaches aspiring teachers how to inspire their students.

"Consider how your experience might inspire the next person going through them. Because the truth is, you will get through them and you will tell your story.  And when you do, it will inspire someone else."

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