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2023 Birmingham Heart Walk

Latia had her heart set on playing in the WNBA, but her game plan didn’t include a life-altering stroke.

The shy, introverted teenager really blossomed when she started playing basketball in the 9th grade. Latia quickly became a popular player and team leader. By the time her senior year rolled around, Latia was a bona fide star. She received over 40 scholarship offers to Division One schools. Latia’s future was looking very bright.

Then a routine trip to the dentist changed everything.

“In August, I went in for just a regular cleaning. By November, I was in the hospital with an infection,” she said.

The doctors diagnosed Latia with infective endocarditis an infection caused by bacteria that enter the bloodstream and settles in the heart lining, a heart valve, or a blood vessel. The doctors told Latia her condition was life threatening.

They recommended emergency open heart surgery.

Latia was devastated.

“The doctor told me that I wouldn’t be able to play basketball again,” she said. “I felt helpless. I was having heart surgery, but I was heartbroken because everything that I had worked for was taken away from me.”

But there was still a ray of hope for Latia. Instead of completely replacing her heart valve, the doctor was able to clean out the infection. She was told she could play basketball again. Her dream of turning pro was quickly revived. Latia was elated.

But her happiness, and her health, didn’t last.

Early one morning at practice, Latia suddenly lost feeling in one arm and one leg. She tried to talk, but couldn’t form words. She was having a stroke.

Latia College

“I remember the doctor saying, ‘Move your fingers. Move your toes.’ But I couldn’t,” she said.

Latia’s dream of playing in the WNBA was over. Now she was in for a real battle: fighting back from a devastating stroke. Over the next few years, the gifted athlete had to learn how to walk and talk all over again. Severe depression set in for Latia.

Through it all, Latia endured. She was determined to be a winner even if it wasn’t on the basketball court. She worked hard to walk and talk again. And she eventually graduated with not one, but two degrees. Today, Latia is an educator and a beloved girls’ high school basketball coach. She uses her experiences to encourage and uplift everyone around her.

“I found the love of basketball again by helping others. By being a coach,” she said. “I tell my girls you have to give 100% in the classroom. You may not always have basketball.”

Latia has become a big advocate for the American Heart Association. She encourages everyone at her school and in her neighborhood to join and donate to the annual Heart Walk. She knows the research that the Heart Walk helps fund makes a huge, life-saving impact on countless lives.

“What if research wasn’t done?” she said. “I wouldn’t be here. I wouldn’t be walking. I wouldn’t be talking. I may not even be living.”

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