(WTOL) - Heart disease is the leading cause of death for women in the United States. One man, Tom Litzinger, knows that fact all too well.
In September 1991, Tom found himself a single father when his 27-year-old wife's heart stopped. His daughter Amie was six.
"One day, when Amie was probably seven," Litzinger recalled, "Shortly after her mom passed away, she just came up to me and said, 'Daddy, I want to be a doctor. I want to help people like my mommy that are sick.'"
Tom eventually remarried and had a son with his wife Katie.
And Amie? She might have only been seven when she declared her desire to be a doctor, but she never lost sight of it. She eventually landed in med school at the University of Toledo.
"She was just thrilled that she could finally see that last step of becoming a doctor becoming a reality," Tom shared.
A second tragedy
In the fall of 2011, 20 years after her mom passed away, Amie Litzinger was in her third year of med school, highly successful, burning the candle at both ends as med students do, and feeling fatigued. One day during a hospital rotation, she almost collapsed.
"When I got that call, I mean, it was just unreal," Tom said.
Amie had to be rushed to surgery. The diagnosis: cardiomyopathy. The same thing that had killed Tom's wife Debbie exactly 20 years earlier.
Amie received a defibrillator and pacemaker but insisted on returning to school.
"Amie pushed herself where other people would have never known actually how much, how many symptoms she was having," said Dr. Ronald McGinnis, who taught Amie at University of Toledo College of Medicine.
Eventually her treatment led Amie to the Mayo Clinic. In December 2012, she was there for an open heart procedure that she didn't survive. Amie passed away New Year's Day, January 2013.
"She would always say to me, 'You know, I think I'm going to live longer than my mom,'" Tom said. "But ultimately, she missed it by a few days."
They were both 27.
But that is not where Amie's story ends.
"She had actually completed all the requirements to receive her MD and ultimately did," Tom said.
Right before her trip to the Mayo Clinic, Amie took her boards. Her family found out after she died that she passed them.
In June of 2013, Tom accepted her diploma for her. Just talking about it now is emotional for Tom.
"The saddest, most happiest day," he said. "To understand that she accomplished her goal, but that she didn't know that she accomplished her goal, and that she would miss out on really a lifetime of serving others which she wanted to do, was difficult."
Amie was widely recognized for her patient care and advocacy.
"Amie had a glow about her," Dr. McGinnis recalled. "She was loved. She was loved by her classmates, by her patients, by everyone that came in contact with her."
So her dad started a foundation in her name that now awards a scholarship each year to a student in need who shares Amie's values.
"How can I not do this?" Tom said. "How can I not help a student who could potentially make the difference in the medical community that I believe that Amie could have had?"
Almost three years after she died, it's not hard to find Amie in Tom's home in Brighton, MI. The pictures, the diplomas and the prayer.
Right there on the living room wall, there's a prayer discovered by Amie's family after she was gone. The prayer was written by Amie, in the weeks, if not days, before her final surgery. It reads, in part:
"Thank you for helping me succeed. There's so much to be thankful for, and to praise you for. Thank you for being my God. -Amie."
There's a lecture series named in Amie's honor at UT, a lasting testament to the impact she had in her four-and-a-half years there.
The American Heart Association will host a Go Red for Women luncheon on Nov. 13. Click here for more information.
If you would like to donate to or learn more about the Amie J Litzinger, MD, Class of 2013 Endowed Scholarship Fund, click here.