SAN DIEGO, Calif. -- After being diagnosed with congenital heart disease and having four open-heart surgeries and a pacemaker, Cristi Walker was about to have a heart and liver transplant until doctors at UC San Diego wanted to try something else, a pulmonary valve replacement.
"We got outta surgery I had one question for my husband, what was it? He said 'it was a cow valve' and I thought my life came full circle and a cow made it so I could live a longer life," said Walker.
She received a pulmonary valve from a cow and that was back in 2017. Since then, she said she's never felt more happy and healthy.
"I felt so connected, happy, present and I knew I wanted to share it with others and that’s the idea where Heart Haven came," said Walker.
She acquired land, adopted animals, and was finally ready to open Happy Heart Haven, a non-profit animal sanctuary in Valley Center with pigs, horses, lambs, and of course, cows.
"This is a place where people can leave all their troubles behind and they can be in the here and now, live in present and fill their heart with joy that animals can bring."
She said she was nervous to open amid a pandemic, "What if this fails? What if it doesn’t work, what happens then, it was scary I’m not gonna lie."
But she said after several open-heart surgeries and a gift from a cow that she said she could never be more thankful for, "I’ve chosen to overcome every obstacle that comes my way and to live in the moment and live every day as if It were my last."
The sanctuary is open for household groups by appointment only, and she said reservations fill up quickly. For information, click here.
This story was first reported by Vanessa Paz at KGTV in San Diego.