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Recipient Stories

My Heart’s New Rhythm

ABOVE: Shannah and her daughters

My name is Shannah, a mother to beautiful twin girls, and in March 1997, I received the wonderful gift of life.

In September of 1996 I gave birth to my daughters. 5 days later, I went into congestive heart failure. I was told that I had developed a heart condition from my pregnancy that had caused my heart to become very enlarged and very weak. I was given a 25% chance to live and only had about 15% function.

I spent the next 4 days in intensive care wondering if I would ever see my daughters again.

After a few more days I was stabilized enough to be sent home. At this point I was told that I had about a 50% chance of recovering completely, but with the amount of heart damage I’d experienced it was unlikely that I would.

So, with only 15% of my heart functioning, I was left to care for my newborn twins and myself.

The next few months were incredibly tiring and depressing. I could barely take care of myself let alone properly care for my daughters.

In February of 1997 I went into congestive heart failure again. I was told that without a transplant I would not survive. So, I was now hospitalized and put on the waiting list for a heart transplant. My life was in the hands of a stranger. While I was in the hospital I tried to remain positive and just take things one day at a time.

I wondered if I would make it out alive. And I wondered what would happen to my daughters if I didn’t. Who would take care of them the way I wanted so badly to be able to do? Who would hug them and kiss them and tell them how much I loved them?

No one could do that the way I would. I was determined to fight for my life the best I could.

After about a month of being in the hospital, a nurse came into my room and told me that they had a possible donor and that I would be taken to Intensive Care to be prepped for surgery. After being prepped, the final call came which was supposed to determine whether or not the donor was a definite match. Instead, the call was to inform us that the airports were snowed in and the organ could not be transported. I was sent back to my room to continue waiting for a transplant.

The next day my health began to deteriorate even further. My heart was becoming weaker and I was given a balloon pump to help take some of the stress off of my heart. After a few hours, the balloon pump began to fail and I was down to only 7% heart function.

The physicians determined that I would need a mechanical heart pump to survive until I could be transplanted. Towards the end of the surgery for the mechanical heart pump, I started to regain consciousness. I couldn’t move a muscle and I was still numb, but I could hear the doctors and nurses talking and I could feel them sewing me up.

I became so overwhelmed with fear that I did the only thing I could – I started to pray. As I prayed, I told God that I couldn’t live this way. I didn’t want my children to grow up seeing me in and out of the hospital. I would rather die than have their quality of life be lowered because of me. I asked God to fix me or take me now.

Two days later I woke up in Intensive Care. When I first woke up, I was angry that I was still alive. I didn’t want to be there with this pump inside of me. It was so powerful that when it pumped my heart, it shook my whole body. I was in a lot of pain and was ready to give up.

Then I looked next to me and on my bedside was a picture of my twins that I kept with me while I was in the hospital. As I looked at my daughters, I felt selfish and ashamed for wanting to give up. My kids needed me, and I couldn’t look at them and still want to die. I again decided that I had to fight for my life.

On the 4th day of having the mechanical heart pump, I was moved from ICU to a regular room to finish my recovery. After only 8 or 9 hours, my nurse came into my room with tears in her eyes and told me that they had another possible donor. I was taken back to ICU and once again prepped for surgery.

The final call came and we were told that my donor and I were a definite match and we were going to be able to proceed with the surgery.

When I woke up in the ICU I felt so good. I noticed an immediate difference. I could feel the blood flowing through my veins again and I was overwhelmed with emotion.

Shannah and her daughters at the Candlelight Vigil

I felt such an incredible sense of peace and I felt so incredibly blessed. I put my hand on my chest and cried as I felt the smooth constant rhythm of my new heart.

I thanked God for my life and I asked God to comfort my donor’s family and to bless them for the gift they’d given me. I am so grateful to them for making the decision to donate. Even to this day, I like to feel my heart rhythm, and I have fallen asleep many nights with my hand on my heart trying to imagine what my donor was like and wondering how her family is doing.

Because of their generosity, they have given me back my life and they have given me the opportunity to see my daughters grow up. I would not be here today if it wasn’t for them.

I will be forever grateful for the gift that they have given to me.

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