This is Their Story – A Niece and her Beloved Aunt

I once read something that said, Only an aunt can give hugs like a mother, keep secrets like a sisters, and share love like a friend. I’m not sure who said it, but that couldn’t be more true and no pair of women understand this better than Karen Miller and Robbie Rubin.  

Robbie is Karen’s aunt on her dad’s side of the family. Robbie was a teenager when Karen’s parents first started dating. Karen’s mother doesn’t have any sisters so she and Robbie have been the best of friends for fifty years. Karen grew up traveling to Baton Rouge from Anguilla, MS to spend Saturdays in Tiger Stadium with her Aunt Robbie and her family, cheering on the LSU Tigers every football season. During the summers, Aunt Robbie would bring the family to Anguilla for visits.

“I’ve been compared to my Aunt Robbie, as well as her mom (my grandmother) Vera since I was a young girl. The comparison came because of my loud and boisterous personality. Never afraid to stand out in a crowd, and never afraid to speak my mind. Strong. Beautiful. Courageous. Positive.  Survivor. Those are qualities in a woman that I’ll always be proud to have as a comparison to myself,” explained Karen. 

Robbie’s mother was a diabetic so she has been very health conscious since her 20’s. She would exercise six or seven days a week, consisting of swimming, walking, yoga, Pilates and was on a “heart healthy” diet and did these things until the day she was diagnosed at 60 years old. 

“My Aunt Robbie was the epitome of health. She was perfectly healthy until the doctors told her she wasn’t healthy. That’s the scariest thing when you see people diagnosed with illnesses like this. They are completely fine and have no idea that they aren’t,” shared Karen.

The Diagnosis: Aortic Stenosis

Robbie explains how they discovered, in January of 2013, she was suffering from aortic stenosis. “I didn’t realize I was having symptoms, but I was at my pulmonologist for a regular check up and he said I needed to go to a cardiologist. At my first cardiology appointment, I was told that I would have to have open heart surgery at some later date. I was stunned and tried to make light of it, but he let me know right away that he was serious.”

How does this happen to a woman that has eaten healthy, exercised, managed stress all her life? Aortic stenosis mainly affects older people. It is the result of scarring and calcium buildup in the valve cusp or fold. Age-related aortic stenosis usually begins after age 60, but often does not show symptoms until ages 70 or 80. Luckily Robbie had regular check-ups with her doctors and they were able to find it early on. So early in fact she didn’t have surgery until three years later in 2016.

Aortic stenosis is one of the most common and most serious valve disease problems. Aortic stenosis is a narrowing of the aortic valve opening. Aortic stenosis restricts the blood flow from the left ventricle to the aorta and may also affect the pressure in the left atrium.

Although some people have AS as a result of a congenital heart defect called a bicuspid aortic valve, this condition more commonly develops during aging as calcium or scarring damages the valve and restricts the amount of bloodflowing through the valve.   

“I didn’t have to change my diet or my exercise regimen during this time. Although I couldn’t workout with the same intensity I continued until the day before my surgery to swim and walk. I began going to see my cardiologist every three months with regular treadmill tests and echo sonograms.” Robbie shared.

Surgery saved her life

Over the years Robbie’s symptoms did get worse but it was a slow spiral downturn. “When I walked upstairs I would have to stop at the landing and rest then stop at the top of the stairs before I could go get on the treadmill. However, it was after an echo sonogram that made the decision four months before I had it. My gradient was 67. The higher the number, the worse off you are. Three weeks prior to surgery my number had jumped to 89.9.” 

Robbie had an aortic valve replacement due to her aortic stenosis condition which had been caused by a congenital defect. Only 10 days post-op, Robbie began her rehab. Because of her diet and exercise regiment, she was strong enough to begin sooner than most people. It took her over a year to feel like herself again, but she felt instant relief after her surgery and was able to breathe so much easier. 

Robbie’s plea to other women, “Make time every day to exercise. Begin slowly and build up. Eat a healthy diet. Moderation is the key. Finally keep a positive attitude, laugh, enjoy life, be grateful to be alive- no matter how you feel. Be grateful.” 

February is American Heart Month. Started in 1963, Heart Month was established to raise awareness about cardiovascular disease and ultimately save lives. During the month of February we wear red in memory of those gone and in honor of those still fighting. To read more about Heart Month and other stories click on our website at

A very special thank you to our partners for making the This is Their Stories series possible.

Photographer: Karri Chaney of Style + Brand Photography ** Dresses: Amy Heard of Once Upon a Dress ** Venue: The Chapel at Livingston ** Hair: Kristin Butkowski with Amour Z Salon ** Make-up: Allie Grace Bell

Source: Aortic Stenosis Overview. May 31, 2016.

Emily Hunt

Emily is the founder and owner of Magnolia Moms. She and her husband Chris live in Madison, MS with their two little girls, Lila and Ella. Emily works full time in the Financial Services industry where she is driven by her passion to help women become more financially stable. She is an avid Mississippi State fan and can be found most weekends watching the Dawgs! She loves wine and unsweetened tea and could eat chips and salsa for most meals. Most importantly she loves sharing her stories and thoughts with all the fantastic Magnolia Moms readers.

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