Zavela, 31, now a resident of Mt. Zion, Ill., spoke to over 40 Rotary Club members and guests about her experience with congestive heart disease and her heart transplant procedure.
In 2007, Zavela was diagnosed with a rare genetic disorder called Familial Partial Lipodystrophy (FPLD) or Dunnigan's Syndrome. The disorder causes fat to build up around blood and organs and soon Zavela was diagnosed with congestive heart disease.
Medication and close watch under doctor's care helped Zavela to control the disease, but complications in February led Zavela's doctors to decide to put her on the waiting list for a heart transplant.
Because she lived in such a small town in Illinois, doctors thought it would be best to transfer her to a larger hospital. Zavela was moved to Methodist Hospital in Indianapolis, where she could be close to her mother and stepfather, Brazil residents Duane and Kathy Butt.
After waiting a few weeks at the top of the transplant list due to other medical complications in her body, Zavela received good news on April 12 that a heart was ready. She underwent surgery that same day and prepared for a long road of recovery.
Though Zavela still has daily struggles and has to take a lot of medication, she is in high spirits.
Only six weeks after the procedure, Zavela participated in her first 5K race. She is scheduled to participate in one 5K every month until the end of this year. Zavela also participates in group therapy and exercise sessions at Methodist Hospital with other transplant recipients.
"I gained a whole new family out of this," Zavela said of the other transplant recipients and friends she made at the hospital.
She even became friends with another woman at the hospital, Glenna, who received a set of lungs from the same donor that Zavela received her heart from.
Zavela is also able to remain strong and spirited because of the help from her family. According to Kathy, Zavela's grandfather, father and aunt all passed away at young ages due to heart disease. Zavela's aunt even received a heart transplant at Methodist Hospital, but unfortunately passed away only a few years later.
"Ashley knew she had family members who'd suffered with this same condition," Kathy said, "but that gave her the opportunity to look back on what happened to them, while looking forward to her own future."
Zavela now focuses on promoting organ donation in the state of Indiana. She hopes to start fundraisers and possibly run a 5K in promotion of organ donation.
"Don't think that you're too old or too sick to donate your organs," she said. "Let your doctors determine that."
Zavela's ultimate focus is on continuing to stay well and to be able to have the strength to pick up her daughter Emerson, 2, soon.
"I just want to be able to pick her up," she said. "Hopefully I will soon. I feel better now than I ever have."