At the heart of things, Julia Carter’s story is a tale of true love. As a teenager in small town Arkansas, she started dating a charming young man named Bill. The high school sweethearts fell in love and married young but still managed to finish college as married students. “I don’t recommend it,” Julia laughs, “but it worked for us.”
Today, the couple has three adult children, six grandchildren, and 55 years of wedded bliss. But the years have not been without their challenges. In 1994, Bill woke up and told his wife, “Call 911. I’m having a heart attack.” He was rushed to the hospital and ended up undergoing a double bypass surgery. Though it would be several years before they volunteered with Mended Hearts, their first encounter with the organization came when Bill was recuperating; a Mended Hearts volunteer stopped by Bill’s Dayton, Ohio, hospital room to offer support and hope.
Julia became Bill’s caregiver for the next 21 years — a role she still holds today. Recently, however, the tables were turned and Bill earned his own caregiver badge after Julia experienced a cardiac event of her own. She had been suffering from episodes where she lost consciousness and became nauseated. Even after six emergency room visits over the course of several years, doctors had been unable to determine the cause. Her cardiologist remained convinced that her problems were heart-related and fitted her with an event monitor.
Just two weeks later, Julia was attending a conference in Washington, D.C., with Mended Hearts representatives Ron and Angela Manriquez, and executive director Michele Packard-Milam, CAE. The group was eating dinner together when Julia passed out once again.
Back home in Aiken, S.C., Bill got a call after Julia’s monitor recognized that her heart had stopped. Fortunately, Packard-Milam, who Julia calls her “guardian angel” during the episode, had prepared Bill by letting him know that his wife had been taken to George Washington University Hospital. There, she was fitted with a pacemaker. “It was ironic because I became not only a caregiver but a patient myself, so now Bill is a caregiver too,” she says.
These days, the Carters are both extremely active in Mended Hearts Chapter 294 in Aiken. She is the former newsletter editor and is about to take on responsibility for scheduling visits. He is the Assistant Regional Director of the state of South Carolina. “We get a lot out of it and enjoy the work,” Julia says. “One Christmas, Bill and I didn’t have our kids here so we put on little Santa Claus hats and went out to visit. People were astonished that we would visit them on Christmas day… It’s always nice to bring a little joy into people’s lives.