Combat veteran Dani Aylsworth shares her compelling story about overcoming PTSD, alcohol misuse, and heart failure to win back her health one battle at a time.
At 23 years old, Dani Aylsworth was a new mom and the only woman in her special forces unit of the U.S. Army. Deployed to Afghanistan, she found herself trying to fit in with her male counterparts.
“I had no idea what I was walking into. It was hard being the only female in that battalion, and everyone counted me out from the start,” Aylsworth told Healthline.
As the loss of fellow soldiers and the trauma of war set in — and as she tried to deal with being away from her daughter while in the middle of a divorce — Aylsworth began drinking alcohol to cope.
“Alcohol was never a part of my life. I wasn’t a drinker at all, but alcohol in the military is socially accepted, and [drinking together] is how you build [camaderie],” Aylsworth said.
Before she knew it, she developed alcohol dependence.
“I now know my grandpa on my mom’s side died of alcoholism in his 40s… I didn’t realize there was a physical dependency that could happen. I thought I was just drinking with my friends, and the next thing you know, 6 years of my life was lost from alcoholism,” Aylsworth said.
After she served her time in the Army and returned home, drinking became a normal part of her day and a way to manage symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
As she struggled with her mental health, Aylsworth didn’t recognize her physical health declining.
When she became ill with chest congestion in 2017, she visited a Veterans Affairs clinic, where she was given medication for an upper respiratory tract infection and sent home.
Turns out Aylsworth had pneumonia that turned into a life threatening infection called sepsis.
“I was walking around untreated for 3 weeks until it ended up in my bloodstream. My lungs were completely encapsulated with full fluid and my organs immediately shut down,” Aylsworth said.
She was put into a medically induced coma for 12 days to help her body fight the infection. While in the coma, she went through alcohol withdrawal.
“The doctors didn’t know I had a drinking problem and couldn’t figure out what else was going on. I was fighting two battles unrelated, but somehow they crashed into each other,” Aylsworth said.
When Aylsworth woke up from the coma, she learned the infection caused heart failure. She was sent home with medication and a wearable defibrillator vest.
For the next year, she tried hard to get back into the role of a single mom despite going in and out of the hospital. She fought to quit drinking, but couldn’t make it past 60 days of sobriety.
“I didn’t know how sick I was until my cardiologist told me I needed a heart transplant or I’d die,” Aylsworth said.
The next day…
Read More: How This Army Vet Is Winning Her Battle with Heart Disease