A Local Assistant Principal’s Courageous Fight

Erika Carter-Rolle

In 2006, Erika Carter-Rolle came down with a bad cold that wouldn’t go away. A few months later, Carter-Rolle was diagnosed with cardiomyopathy– a condition in which the heart muscle becomes enlarged and weaker, and often leads to heart failure.

The diagnosis was devastating for Carter-Rolle, an assistant principal at M.A. Milam 5-8 Center in Hialeah.

Though she continued to work, her condition worsened. She suffered a stroke, consecutively had transient ischemic attacks (TIAs), more commonly known as “mini strokes,” and had a pacemaker implanted to resynchronize her heart rhythms.

In 2011, Carter-Rolle retained fluid around the heart and in her right lung. She was then diagnosed with congestive heart failure.

While walking around the school campus earlier this year, Carter-Rolle became fatigued. Struggling to breathe, she found herself praying that she could find the strength to walk back to her office. It was then that she realized more advanced care was needed. Soon after, her doctors told her she needed a heart transplant.

Carter-Rolle faced this new challenge with her usual determination and positive attitude.

“I’m a warrior,” she told herself. “I’m going to make it through this.”

To help Carter-Rolle survive while she waited for a donor heart, University of Miami Health System—UHealth cardiologist, Sandra Chaparro, MD, recommended she have a left ventricular assist device (LVAD) implanted. The LVAD is a type of mechanical heart which helps the heart pump oxygen.

While adjusting to her new life with the LVAD, Carter-Rolle formed a club for other patients in similar situations. The group would meet for lunch and dinner, share stories and pray together.

“Erika is simply a wonderful person, taking the role as a cheerleader for other patients,” said Sami Rudnick-Hoover, transplant social worker.

Despite her setbacks, Carter-Rolle’s determination was admired by everyone around her. Her journey was made easier, she says, largely because of her support system of family, friends, and co-workers, including her husband, Carlos Rolle.

In October, Carter-Rolle received the call that she had faith would come. It was a long, agonizing wait, but a donor heart was available.

In a four-hour surgery on October 30, UHealth transplant surgeons Matthias Loebe, MD, and Nicholas Brozzi, gave Carter-Rolle a new heart. She calls that day her “second birthday.”

“Before the surgery, I did not see the balance of life—I constantly reflected on how I was living before,” she said. “It was like the Lord sat me down and said ‘you’re going to take a break and look at life.’ This is my second chance.”

As Carter-Rolle celebrates her new life, she says she will be forever grateful to the family of the donor and keeps them in her prayers.

She is also thankful to the team of miracle works who saved her life.

“Out of all the hospitals we have been to, Jackson has been the best,” she said. “Everyone here has been so great.”