Jude Maboné secretly survived six heart attacks — then she became Miss District of Columbia

Jude Maboné discusses her journey, the importance of Black women taking their heart health seriously, and her plan to make school sports safer for children.

Jude Maboné, Miss District of Columbia, Miss DC, Miss America, Black beauty pageant queen, heart disease survivor, heart health, theGrio.com
Jude Maboné attends The American Heart Association’s Go Red for Women Red Dress Collection Concert 2024 at Jazz at Lincoln Center on Jan. 31 in New York City. (Photo by Astrid Stawiarz/Getty Images for The American Heart Association's Go Red for Women Red Dress Collection Concert)

When, at the age of 16, Jude Maboné, Miss District of Columbia 2023, suffered a heart attack seemingly out of nowhere during track practice at her Southern California-based high school, she was told it was a fluke. She went on to experience five more in the span of two years. 

Doctor after doctor failed to diagnose and adequately treat what was going on inside Maboné’s heart until she finally found one able to prescribe a successful treatment plan. In the process, she learned her condition was possibly caused by either hormonal fluctuations or environmental factors, leading to heart attacks. However, to this day, nothing conclusive has been determined. 

Jude Maboné, Miss District of Columbia, Miss DC, Miss America, Black beauty pageant queen, heart disease survivor, heart health, theGrio.com
(Photo courtesy of Jude Maboné)

Once an active track runner, Maboné had to adjust to her heart’s capacity and regain her ability to run at a competitive level. All of this occurred at such an impressionable age that she endured it without telling hardly anyone outside her immediate circle. 

“I was really embarrassed,” Maboné, now 28, told theGrio. “I thought that this was something that happened as a result of poor decision-making, and I didn’t want people to think that I had done something wrong. So I went through my two years of high school during that treatment phase, during my initial six heart attacks, and didn’t tell anybody.” 

Maboné finished high school, moved to Washington, D.C., and graduated from college, all while keeping these ordeals a secret, for the most part. Then, she competed to become Miss District of Columbia.

As part of her run for the title, she was required to adopt a cause. Considering that she was a survivor of multiple heart attacks and the Miss America organization had recently partnered with the American Heart Association, she felt compelled to choose heart health.  

“I thought, ‘You know what? I have this weird story; I have this crazy unicorn life where I’ve had this really traumatic thing happen to me. But what if I use it for something other than shame? What if I turn that shame into change?’” she recalled.

Maboné won the Miss District of Columbia title in June 2023 and is currently on the final leg of her reign. While she did not go on to take the coveted Miss America title (which went to Miss Colorado, Air Force Officer Madison Marsh, in January), Maboné continues to lead a very busy, heart-centered life. 

What was once a source of shame for the 20-something has become a proud mission. Speaking with theGrio in February, American Heart Month, Maboné spoke about living life as a six-time heart attack survivor and how she’s using her title to champion making schools and school sports environmentally safer for children and to bring awareness to the prevalence of heart disease, especially for Black and Latina women

“A lot of people don’t even know that heart disease is our number-one killer,” she said. “Most women don’t know that cardiovascular disease is the number-one killer of women.” 

She noted that Black and Latino women are “more likely to die than their white female counterparts” from heart disease. As a Black heart disease survivor, Maboné urged, “We have to get so serious about our cardiovascular health as early as possible. I think that we tend to think of it as an older person’s disease in this country.” 

She and many others are living proof that heart disease can strike the most unlikely candidates at the most unexpected times. Maboné referenced LeBron James’ son, Bronny James, and NFL player Damar Hamlin, who both recently survived traumatic cardiac episodes while participating in the sports they love. She also considers the lifesaving measures both had access to that other young student-athletes around the country may not. 

“What saved their lives wasn’t just that somebody did chest compressions and somebody got an AED (automated external defibrillator, which is used to help those experiencing cardiac arrest),” she explained. “What saved their lives is that there was a plan in place where somebody knew that it was their job to start the chest compressions. Somebody else knew that it was their job to go get the AED; somebody else knew they had to call 911. That responsibility and that plan is what saved their lives.”

Before she relinquishes her title in June, Maboné’s mission is to see these measures become the standard of care in all local public schools in the district. She’d also love to see it become a national standard. 

“I want every student-athlete in the District of Columbia to have the right to play and the right to live when they’re on that court, or the course, or the track, or the field, or wherever they are,” she said. 

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Something to know about Maboné is she’s a self-described goal-oriented person who yields results. Before her first heart attack, she recalls having her life mapped out. Looking for a way to further motivate herself during her final years of high school, she created a bucket list — which included competing in the Miss America pageant. (She had just seen the movie “Miss Congeniality,” starring Sandra Bullock, and thought, “I could do that.”) 

Maboné is also someone who doesn’t give up easily. She didn’t give up at 16 when her heart attacks were being dismissed as flukes, and she didn’t give up during the seven tries it ultimately took her to win Miss DC. 

“It has really been the most transformative experience of my life,” she said. 

In terms of what’s next for Maboné, she intends to get her master’s degree in business and indicated that the sky is the limit — literally.

“I’ve always told myself that I didn’t want [my disease] to be a limiting thing. So I always say, ‘I’m not just living with heart disease; I’m thriving with heart disease.’ I’m choosing to live a much more full and exciting life,” she said before adding, “Yeah, I have limits. I can’t go skydiving … Other than that, I can do pretty much anything.”

Kay Wicker is a lifestyle writer for theGrio covering health, wellness, travel, beauty, fashion, and the myriad ways Black people live and enjoy their lives. She has previously created content for magazines, newspapers, and digital brands. 

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