I believe my transplant was especially difficult in part
due to the removal of the LVAD. The machine that kept me
alive all those months proved complex to remove. A six-hour surgery took 12 hours because they had to unwrap my
tissues from the device.
When my new heart was finally placed in my chest, it
would not pump correctly. My body had been completely
dependent on the LVAD and got lazy at working on its own!
A powerful drug was administered to cause my vessels to
constrict and assist in the pumping action of my new heart.
Within an hour, compartment syndrome developed in
my right lower leg, when circulation stopped in that area.
Typically compartment syndrome in any limb would mean
amputation of that limb. They notified my husband who had
just gone to take a short nap after the lengthy transplant to
tell him they needed to amputate. He wouldn’t agree to the
amputation and told them they didn’t know how strong I was
and how hard I would fight!
Over the next month, I faded in and out of consciousness
as I encountered complication after complication — kidneys
failed, liver problems, a collapsed lung. On top of healing
from the transplant, my leg had to heal and required a
procedure to relieve the pressure so the blood could flow
back to my heart. In addition to the incisions from the
procedure on either side of my lower leg, there were wound
vacs, which are sponges surgically attached to the incision
area to expedite healing. I had several more surgeries on my
leg and later had a skin graft to cover the gaping wounds.
If it weren’t for the skill of the doctors and the support
staff, I am certain I would not have survived all of these
My three-week stay lasted four and a half months. I
survived, but my marriage did not. I get it; none of this
was easy for me or my family. I was in a hospital two
and a half hours from my husband and five hours from
my kids. My daughters drove down as much as possible,
while trying to work and keep their own lives afloat.
Family and friends came to visit from close to faraway.
Being alone is one thing; being alone in a hospital room is
entirely different. I was unable to leave my room for four
months. I was very lonely; my nurses became my best
friends, and they still are to this day.
I chose to focus on healing and keeping a positive
attitude. I focused on my new grandson, Zane, born a few
days after my transplant. I focused on the new life ahead.
A life with my children and grandchildren is what kept me
going on the tough days, weeks and months.
When my mother collapsed from a sudden cardiac arrest
in 1963, they didn’t have the technology. No one even knew
to give CPR, let alone have a defibrillator implanted. She
lost a life with her family, and we lost a life with her. Today
I am here to say I enjoy each day with my family. I visit
my doctors regularly and take anti-rejection drugs daily. It
is my new normal. The aftermath of the heart transplant is
neuropathy in my leg and foot. It does not stop me from
playing with my grandchildren and passing on my passion
for riding horses.
Today I am retired and enjoy my days volunteering for
the Donor Network, asking others to think the unthinkable
and become an organ donor. I am alive today because
someone made the choice to donate their organs. I think of
the family of my donor daily, thankful for the gift of life,
praying for their healing as they had to lose someone they
loved for me to tell this story.
Because of research and technology, I survived sudden
cardiac arrest, the LVAD process and a complicated
heart transplant. I feel blessed to be here and watch my
daughters begin their lives as adults and be present in my
grandchildren’s lives every day. This life was not possible
without the technology, skilled nurses and doctors we