Six hours after receiving the call, stating that a heart was gifted to me, we arrived at the Cleveland Clinic. I walked into the ICU at 8:30am where I was prepped for surgery. They placed IV and arterial lines, drew several tubes of blood, and we spoke with my surgeons. My family and I had several hours to be with each other, holding hands, giving hugs, sitting together. I can honestly say that I was not afraid, though I was well aware that my surgery was considered “extremely high risk.” At 2:15pm, with a few tears by all, I said goodbye to my parents, my husband, our daughter, and our son. I was then wheeled into the operating room.
I recently spoke with my surgeon about my failing heart. After he successfully entered my chest through “tedious dissection”, he could see that my heart was not pumping well. There were severe adhesions from my previous heart surgery as well as the radiation from 42 years prior. My heart was unusually scarred and indeed small, a mere 157 grams, (normal 250-300grams), and densely adherent to the sternum and all surrounding tissues. He had to dissect my scarred lungs away from the chest wall to make room for my new heart.
The pathology report in part reads: “Microscopic examination of the heart shows moderate myocyte hypertrophy with interstitial fibrosis. The endocardium shows thickening with fibrosis. The epicardial surface demonstrates fibrous pericarditis. The left ventricular cavity shows a thickened white endocardium diffusely throughout. Previous bypass grafts 100% occluded.”
The radiation had damaged every portion of my heart.
Upon reading this description, it is difficult to understand how this damaged heart sustained my life for 52 years–42 of those years compromised from the radiation treatments used to cure my childhood cancer–the last 9 years in heart failure. Yet this heart of mine did not fail me, or my family, and clung to life until that moment when a new, young, vibrant heart became available. I said goodbye to my heart from birth, on September 5, 2013. That same day, with an overwhelming sense of grief and gratitude, I welcomed my new beautiful heart!