Toni Braxton recently opened up about a heart-related health scare she had last September which resulted in her needing a procedure to clear her main coronary artery.
In 2008, Braxton was diagnosed with systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE), which according to the CDC, “is the most common type of lupus. SLE is an autoimmune disease in which the immune system attacks its own tissues, causing widespread inflammation and tissue damage in the affected organs. It can affect the joints, skin, brain, lungs, kidneys, and blood vessels.”
Having SLE, Braxton is no stranger to a hospital room. But last year, following the death of her sister Traci in March, her mind was elsewhere and she attributed her chest pains to feeling grief over losing her sister.
“I kept putting it off thinking, ‘Oh, I’m fine. I’ll be okay.’ But my doctor was persistent and I went to get tested in the last week of September,” she shared with People. “I did a specialized test and they looked at my heart and saw some abnormalities. I found out that I needed a coronary stent. My left main coronary artery was 80% blocked. The doctors told me I could’ve had a massive heart attack, I would not have survived.”
She recalls feeling chest pains that day, saying, “I thought I was just sad because unfortunately my sister had just passed and I thought, ‘Wow, I’m really aching in my heart for my sister.’” When in reality, she had “underlying health issues,” adding, “It was my body talking to me, telling me something’s not quite right.”
She immediately went into surgery after the screenings and had a stent inserted into her heart.
Now able to look back on the “scary moment” in her life, she feels thankful that she got checked out when she did, especially considering her pre-existing condition.
“I look at it like it was a blessing in disguise for me because now, putting off tests? Oh no, I will not put off tests. If all I have to do for my lupus and my kidney health is pee in a cup, I can pee in a cup. How many times do you need me to pee?” she said. “If all I gotta do is get my arm pricked for some blood? Oh yes, I can do that. How many vials do you need?”
After initially being diagnosed with SLE, she felt “ashamed” and was told by multiple colleagues to keep it a secret to help conserve her career and not give anyone a reason not to hire her for gigs or concerts.
“I remember when I first was diagnosed, I’d heard of lupus but I knew nothing about it. I didn’t know where to go, where to look, who to contact,” she admitted. “Your doctors tell you about it, but it just sounds like Charlie Brown teacher talking, you know? Womp womp womp, like what are you saying? So I had to educate myself and it was a pretty scary moment for me.”
“I was also ashamed. They made me feel ashamed. ‘Don’t tell anyone. You won’t be able to work. No one will hire you,’” she continued. “And so now I’m an advocate for talking about it. It’s nothing to be ashamed of — kidney health, healthcare, lupus nephritis — it’s important to talk about it.”
She admits that having her condition does in fact hinder her ability to perform for long term (like for a concert tour), but having been familiar with her condition for over a decade now, she not only does what she can to stay on top of it, she also tries to encourage others to constantly check on their physical health.
“I know we’re all scared sometimes to go to the doctor. Especially for me having lupus, I was scared, I didn’t want to know,” she recalled. “But I find that knowing is empowering and it gets my doctors on top of my lupus and my kidney health. And that’s the most important thing.”
As she continues to push through the “good days and bad days” of having SLE, she heavily relies on her family for support.
“I’m going to be honest, sometimes the bad days get me down. I’m not superwoman,” she admitted. “I like to think I am. I like to feel like I’m that boss b–ch all the time, but I’m also a human. When my body tells me to take it down and relax, I have to listen to it.”
If something feels off, especially as you grow older, there is no shame in getting it checked out by a doctor, because you never know how close you are to entering the point of no return.