Tuesday’s Tale: Unexpected Blessing
In February of 2007 I gave birth to my first child, a beautiful and healthy baby boy. It was the most wonderful day of my life. Seven short weeks after my son Jack was born, my life changed, again.
At 25 I had a great life: I was healthy and happy. I was looking forward to returning to work though a bit anxious about leaving my son in someone else’s care. After working less than 2 days I found my self in the ER after becoming severely short of breath and suffering from abdomen pain that felt like I’d been “sucker punched.” After a few tests in the ER I was told that I needed my gallbladder removed – a procedure that is not uncommon for a woman who had just recently given birth. After the surgery, while being removed from anesthesia, my heart rate started to increase, and so did my need for oxygen. I woke up from surgery with several faces over mine asking questions about family heart health and my shortness of breath. Later that day an x-ray and an echocardiogram confirmed that I was suffering from congestive heart failure.
The official diagnosis was Post Partum Congestive Heart Failure. Within the first 24 hours I was told that I could no longer have children, and there was a possibility that if things did not improve I would be evaluated for a transplant. Not once did I ever think that I would hear that word again. Competitive all my life, I was going to beat this. I was going to regain all of my heart function and be fine.
Before leaving the hospital after that first visit, I was told that I had a lethal heart rhythm and that I needed a pacemaker. I dealt with that. In fact, my father has had a pacemaker for years and is living just fine. I thought once I had the pacer I would improve as well. I didn’t. I took one hit after another. A few days after the pacemaker was implanted, and leaving the hospital, I returned with a pulmonary embolism. Then I became so ill I couldn’t keep down food or liquids. Even water was coming back up before it had a chance to warm. After several visits to my original hospital I decided to try another in the area. I was told my organs were failing because they weren’t receiving enough blood flow to function. In May 2007 I was told my options: Cleveland Clinic or The Ross at The Ohio State Medical Center; my doctors were preparing me for a transplant.
In late May of 2007 I was officially listed on the transplant list.
During the few weeks that I was on the list I never thought about having a transplant. Even as I grew sicker, I thought I was going to be one of those patients that improved drastically and would be removed from the list. In the first week of June I was admitted to the hospital for what they called a “tune-up.” I was to receive some medicine so that I could go home and be monitored there. After a few complications this quick visit turned into a several day stay as the staff needed to wait over the weekend before trying to install a PICC line again on Monday. Since I was in the hospital and on an isotope medicine, my status on the transplant list was bumped to a higher priority. I remember the coordinator telling me about this “good news” and not feeling that way at all.
Then I realized how real this all was. Everything had happened so quickly that I didn’t have the time to sit around and pray for a donor heart. I still thought I was going to recover on my own.
Early afternoon on Saturday June 9th, my nurse walked into my room with her phone. She said that someone was on the phone for me. I was confused for a second. No one had tried to call my room phone or my cell—who was this calling me? It was the nurse coordinator, telling me that a heart was available.
My very first thought was that some family had just lost a loved one. And then I thought, if I wanted to be here, to be a mother, a wife, a daughter and a sister—this is what had to be done. This was my ‘unexpected blessing.’
I had never seen something more organized than the process leading up to surgery. Nurses from different floors were coming in to say that they had heard “my story” and were so thankful that things were working out. I met with the doctors that were about to help save my life and was assured that everything would be just fine… There was a steady flow of medical personnel in and out of my room and believe it or not, for me, it was a very peaceful process.
The next few hours my family and friends came to support me, to support us. We were a team- my donor, my doctors, my nurses, my family and my friends. I knew I was in good hands and everything would be okay.
Life is definitely different these days since the transplant; and at the same time things are wonderfully normal! I still don’t know who I received my gift from but there isn’t a single day that goes by that I don’t think of my donor and his or her family. I wonder what kind of things he or she did, what their family is like, and what kind of person they were. I can’t help but know that they must have been a compassionate and caring person and family to share life with me: this decision has let me be a mother to Jack, and a wife to Peter.
For that, my actions will never be enough, and my gratitude will never fail.