I never thought my life was interesting enough to consider writing about, but in the past few years it became apparent even to me, that because of my unusual health circumstances, I did indeed have quite a story to tell. To understand the miracles that I have experienced, you must first know something about my life and my family. I am a 56 year old female born in Portland, Oregon and have been blessed to have a wonderful husband, Mark and four beautiful daughters, Emily (31), Jessica (29), Melissa (26) and Ashley (19). In addition to my children, I have three awesome son-in-laws (Jake, Seth, and Joseph) and two adorable granddaughters, McKenzie (11) and Caitlyn (5). It is these very special people along with a group of wonderful friends that have kept me going even at times when it seemed impossible to fight.
My first experience with heart disease came about 8 months after the birth of my first daughter Emily in 1980. After suffering for several months with severe stomach pain and edema, my doctors concluded that I suffered from post-partum cardiomyopathy, congestive heart failure and to make matters worse, a congenital defect which was a silver dollar sized hole between the upper chambers of my heart otherwise known as an Atrial-Septal Defect (ASD). I was barely 25 years old and facing my first heart surgery. Scary to say the least. However, I knew that I was not in this alone. I knew that the Lord God Almighty held me in His hands and that I would not walk this scary path alone.
On June 6, 1981, I went in for open heart surgery to close the hole. Upon getting a good look inside, the doctors discovered that at some point in time, I had suffered some type of illness that had infected the pericardium. They used part of the pericardium to close the hole and ended up stripping part of the diseased pericardium off. The plan was to make me good as new! Well, it worked ….for a few days anyway. My stay in the hospital became grueling and I couldn’t wait to go home to my darling baby girl but two days before release, my heart decided to pause and well…stop occasionally Back into the CCU/ICU I went for several more days. It became apparent that a pacemaker would be required. It would take care of the rhythm problems and give the assurance that I needed in case my heart continued pausing and/or stop. So, once again, my faith covered my fear and I got through another frightening experience.
The years went by and I was blessed with three more beautiful daughters. To all of our surprise, I led a very normal life. Other than the every three month pacer checks and going through 3 more pacers, my heart ran pretty smoothly. As it turned out, for over 20 years, I only really used my pacer about 2% of the time; the rest of the time my own heart did the rest. I remember praying to God when I was in the hospital, ‘Please God….just give me 25 more years’. God honored my request and gave me more, oh….so much more!
In September of 2005, while taking a shower, my left arm became extremely weak and numb. Never experiencing anything like this before, I just pushed it out of my mind and chalked it up to the fact that I had done a lot of extra cleaning the day before thinking it was a muscle spasm. After getting dressed and attempting to get ready for the day, my left arm became more weakened and numb with every task I tried to accomplish. Still not wanting to admit that there was anything really wrong, my husband and I went off to the home and garden store. It wasn’t until I tried to grip the pen in the checkout line to sign the debit receipt, that I realized I couldn’t feel my fingers. THAT is when I knew that this was not some muscle spasm, this was more than that. But again, DENIAL. I dropped my husband off at home and drove myself to the hospital because I still thought it was just a pinched nerve or muscle spasm. What I discovered was that I had 3 clots in the underside of my arm where it bends and it had cut off the blood supply to my lower arm and if I had waited much longer, I could have lost my lower arm and hand all together! I immediately was taken in for emergency surgery to remove the clots. After successful surgery, the surgeon asked me how long I had been in Atrial Fib. I was surprised to have been asked that question because as far as I knew, I had never been in Atrial Fib. Every time I went to an emergency room, they noted my heart rhythm as sporadic, but not in A-Fib. This turned out to be the beginning of my road to transplant. From that September day in 2005, I continued to be in A-Fib with noticeable changes including the onset of CHF (Congestive Heart Failure) and cardiomyopathy. Over the next three years, we tried various combinations of medications; I went from a full time job to a half time job and tried hard to keep positive. I continued to pray for divine healing and trusted God to bring me to wholeness. As I declined in energy and increased in symptoms, it became apparent that something else besides medication management needed to happen. Because of my past surgery, the doctors thought that a large part of the problem might be that my pericardium had scarred so severely, that my heart could no longer pump efficiently. The hope was that by stripping off the pericardium, it would release the heart to beat more freely and alleviate some of those symptoms, thus giving me back my life again.
In June of 2008, my husband, one of my best friends and I boarded a plane and headed for the Mayo clinic in Rochester MN for a ‘pericardial stripping’ otherwise known as a complete pericardectomy. The outlook was good; the surgeon told us that this would get me back to my old self again. Earlier in April, two of my best friends and I went for a consultation to the Mayo clinic. We prayed that God would give us a definitive answer during this meeting whether or not I should go ahead with the surgery and during that day of testing, it became very apparent that this was to be my next move. It’s funny that sometimes when we pray for healing, we expect it to be immediate. I expected that this surgery was to the answer to all my physical problems. I believed I would leave Rochester, with a whole new outlook on life and a healthier heart. What we as Christians don’t always understand is that healing is not always immediate nor does it always come in the way we want it to come. Surgery did not turn out to be my end all to end all answer. In fact, the next morning after a successful surgery, I arrested twice and found myself on a machine called ECMO or Extracorporeal Membrane Oxygenation. ECMO is used when long-term cardiopulmonary bypass is necessary. While cardiopulmonary bypass is used for short-term support and measured in hours, ECMO’s support can range from 3 – 10 days. The purpose of ECMO is to allow time for the heart and lungs to recover from trauma. My heart, due to two episodes of cardiac arrest, needed to recover and ECMO became my life saver for several days. The time spent while in ECMO was amazing. Although I was fully sedated, I was fully aware that God was with me in every way. During those days, while my family was in turmoil wondering if I would ever wake up, I was resting on a ‘bed of prayer’ knowing that friends and family and even people I had never met, were continuing to pray for my recovery. I could feel the power of those prayers. I even heard my best friend Linda calling my name and re-assuring me that she was praying for me. I remember waking up and calling for her during one of the times when they would take me off of sedation to make sure I could still wiggle my toes and fingers….I was confident that my life was not over yet and that I was in good hands, in my Almighty Father’s hands.
Somewhere on the fourth or fifth day, I awoke to my girls standing beside my bed. My oldest daughter had her head on my chest, stroking my hair softly and my other three daughters along with my husband were standing around the bed with concerned looks on their faces. My youngest daughter was barely 16 and showed very much that she was frightened. During the first couple of days, she would not even touch my hand. I think she was afraid that something else awful could happen. Upon waking, the first words out of my mouth were ‘why are you guys here?’ They tried hard to make me believe that they came to surprise me but I knew better. Eventually the nurses told me what had happened and I knew that I had been rescued and held in the palm of the Lord’s hand. Once again, I had escaped death and once again, I would continue to fight on for ‘The Battle is the Lord and I am just a soldier in His army!’
Amazingly, I went home about three weeks later and miraculously; I attended and even danced at my daughter’s wedding six weeks later. I was weak, tired and very glad to be alive. To think, the enemy did not want me to dance at that wedding. But it was in my destiny to not only attend her wedding but attend the wedding of my other daughter Jessica, attend the graduations of my youngest daughter Ashley from high school, my oldest daughter Emily from college and my second oldest Jessica also from college. To all of our amazement, I have had three and a half more years. It has not been easy. Many trips to the emergency room, many hospital visits, hundreds of doctors’ visits and tests. All leading up to the answer to my prayer for a healthy heart. As I mentioned before, our answers don’t always come in what we would consider to be a timely manner and they don’t always take the shape that we expect them to. But it is our faith that carries us through. Remembering that FAITH is the substance of things hoped for, and the evidence of things not seen. Even though I am still awaiting my healthy heart, even though my heart may be failing and my body with it…..God is my strength and my portion forever (Psalms 73:26).
This is why I am where I am. I have the faith to believe that I will once again be able to visit places I’ve never been, run with my grandbabies, walk on the beach, and sing without losing my breath. Transplant is not my last option; it is my final option here on earth. I have no doubt that I will get to walk on the beach play with my grandchildren and visit all those places, I am a child of God and He has promised me wholeness. BY HIS STRIPES…I am healed! I can’t feel it yet….I can’t see it yet….BUT I AM HEALED!
I wrote this back in April of 2012. I am proud and blessed to say that on Father’s Day, June 17, 2012, I received my new heart! I received that lifesaving call at 4:30 pm on Saturday the 16th and my family joined me up at OHSU (Oregon Health Sciences University) where the lifesaving surgery was performed the very next day. After spending nearly 3 weeks in the hospital, I was released to go home. I am still recovering and dealing with many side effects to the multiple medicines I am on but I am alive and have a strong beating heart because my faith carried me through. Being a post-transplant patient is not going to be an easy road, but I will live on to see my grandchildren and they will get to know me. I will continue to forge on and face each day with the hope and faith that I can make a difference in someone else’s life. The best way to recover is to focus on others. It is my mission to continue my fight against heart disease by helping to education women on the symptoms and dangers of heart disease and to raise awareness on the importance of becoming an organ donor. In addition, I hope to someday soon be a helping hand and an encouragement to someone else walking down the same path I walked. Blessings to all of us fighting for our lives and for giving us the strength, faith and hope to put one foot in front of the other and carry on!
The informational content of this article is intended to convey a personal experience and, because every person’s experience is unique, should not be relied upon as a substitute for professional healthcare advice.