Tonya M. had heart failure because she smoked cigarettes. A battery-operated heart pump inserted in her chest helped blood circulate through her body. At night, she plugged the pump into an outlet. Tonya died at the age of 53.


Tonya started smoking as a teenager because friends who smoked pressured her to try it. By the time she was 16 years old, she was smoking almost a pack of cigarettes a day.  She smoked regularly for more than two decades. Tonya’s life changed at 38 years old when she was diagnosed with heart failure because of smoking.

Over the next few years, Tonya’s heart got weaker. In 2013, while waiting for a heart transplant, Tonya had a mechanical heart pump called a left ventricular assist device (LVAD) inserted in her chest to help continuously move blood through her body. The pump was connected to batteries through a tube that ran outside her body. Tonya carried the batteries with her in a pack worn around her waist. At night, Tonya recharged her batteries and slept with her LVAD cord plugged into an electrical outlet.

After getting the pump and going through cardiac rehabilitation, breathing was easier, and Tonya had more energy. She and her family adapted to life with her “new normal,” though she was still waiting for a new heart. Tonya quit smoking for good in 2008 but the damage to her health could not be undone. “I wish I had quit sooner,” she said. “I wish I had never picked up a cigarette.” Tonya died in 2022. She was 53.