When you envision your senior year of high school, heart disease doesn’t exactly come to mind. It isn’t supposed to happen when you’re 16, co-captain of your tennis team, and have never spent a night in the hospital. It shouldn’t happen when you don’t drink, smoke, do drugs, or have high cholesterol. But even without the typical risk factors, heart disease knows no rules, and it happened to me when I least expected it.
While out at dinner with my parents, the world suddenly started spinning and I thought I would pass out. There were pressure pains in my chest and neck and it felt like my arms were made of lead. When the dizziness subsided, I assumed it was an allergic reaction to the food, a minor passing episode. Until an ambulance took me to a local hospital and a cardiologist said the dreaded words:
“Massive heart attack.”
A blood clot had lodged in the artery leading to the left side of my heart was completely blocking blood flow. I had a 20-30% chance of dying right then. At a second hospital, I was crashing. My lungs were filling up with fluid, and the Last Rites were said for me because I wasn’t expected to live through the night.
Doctors managed to stabilize me in time to take me to a third hospital in hopes of having a heart transplant as a last resort. With a critical shortage of organs and tens of thousands of people waiting, no hearts could save me. They implanted a then-experimental Left Ventricular Assist Device (LVAD) to pump the left side of my heart via battery power while I waited in hope for a transplant. Additional complications forced doctors to amputate my left leg in order to save my life.
It was time to reclaim my life and face a new reality. After six weeks in the hospital, I returned to school and kept myself as busy as possible with classes, friends, and school activities. Nine months later, just days before my graduation ceremony, I received my second chance at life: a heart from an 18 year old named Shannon. Three months later, I was able to start Princeton University on time, and I went on to work in the organ donation field to help the many others still in need of a life-saving organ.
When Michelle and Yuki were co-founding Harboring Hearts, I became an original founding member and now serve on the Board of Directors. Harboring Hearts’ mission resonated deeply with me, thinking back to the many sleepless nights my parents spent by my side. They didn’t miss one night, often sleeping in my hospital room, and their support made such a huge difference in my recovery. There are so many other families in need of the emotional and financial assistance that Harboring Hearts provides. I’m honored to share my story in an ongoing blog series to help give voice to the patient experience and address different topics that we often face. I look forward to getting to know you in the coming months!
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