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Samantha Sloan – Heart Transplant Recipient

Sam Heart Recipient1My name is Samantha Sloan and this is my story. In 1989 my son was diagnosed with Hypertrophic Cardiomyopathy and at that time his doctor told me this was a congenital heart disease and that I myself and my husband should both be tested. I told him that my mother had just had a series of heart attacks and is only thirty-seven years old, so I just knew it was me. After being tested I was in fact diagnosed with the same disease. This was the start of a downhill spiral for my family. We soon were testing others on my mother’s side of the family including my brother. My uncle died at just thirty-eight, followed by my mother in 1991 at the age of forty. My brother passed in 1999 at thirty years old and one year later on February 7, 2000 my son was leaving for school on a Monday morning, he collapsed at the front door and was never revived, he was only 11 years old. His death destroyed me, but I knew I had to be there for my daughter who had been cleared of the disease. In June of 2000 they implanted a pacemaker/defibrillator. They said the reason was because I had too many sudden deaths in the family. I put all my faith in GOD and just had to believe that he had bigger plans for me and not give up.

Everything was going the best it could. I tried to do everything I could to stay as healthy and prolong my life as far as I could. I got remarried in 2008 to my husband Paul; my daughter had graduated from high school. All my check up’s seemed to go well; I thought I had beaten the odds. Until December 10, 2009, I woke up and I was swollen and having trouble breathing. I went to the hospital and was told I was in congestive heart failure, the three words I did not want to hear. I knew that was the first thing my mom had started with so to me all my fears were coming true. I had been seeing the same doctor for at least 20 years and was shocked when my husband asked me to please get a second opinion. So I did to see if I had any other options. I did not just want to become another statistic like the rest of my family. I wanted to fight for my future and was not giving up. The new doctor didn’t seem to have any great answers, so I was treated for CHF and went from there. On February 17, 2011 I was leaving for work and was backing out of my driveway when I suffered what I thought was my first heart attack. I dismissed the pain after talking to my husband and promised him that I would go to the hospital if I felt worse. After a few hours at work I started to feel very weak and drove to the hospital and there is where my life took a major turn. The Cardiologist on duty came into see me; she taught me more in fifteen minutes about my disease than I had learned from anyone else in 20+ years. When she walked out I looked at my husband and told him that she was my new doctor. I followed up with her a few weeks later and she asked me what I wanted more than anything. I told her I wanted to live, my daughter and her husband had just blessed me with my first granddaughter and her husband was going to Japan for a year and I wanted the chance to spend time with them. She told me that the test showed that this was not my first heart attack; the damage was bad and advanced. She was the first to offer the opinion of transplant. Finally someone was giving me the hope. After that in the weeks to come I suffered several more attacks and the doctor became very aggressive and contacted St. Thomas in Nashville. After going through 3 days of extensive testing I was told that I was a perfect candidate for a new heart. On June 24, 2011 I was placed on UNOS. I was excited and nervous at the same time. Months passed and I would wake up every morning wondering will this be the day? In December I received a letter from St. Thomas, that because of the lack of surgeons they would have to close the transplant program as of January 14, 2012 and that I had to find another facility before then. I called my doctor here in Louisville for her opinion. I trusted her and she had brought me so far already. She suggested St. Vincent of Indianapolis, they are a sister hospital to St. Thomas. I met with them on January 16, 2012 and was accepted to their program the very next day and placed on the list that day.

The program was slightly different, they were more aggressive than the other program I felt, they made me document things every day and to call if I saw I a major difference in just a few days. On February 1, 2012 I was at work and I just felt like someone had turned off a switch. I just became exhausted within a few minutes. I went home that day and went straight to bed. My husband said he could not even wake me for dinner. I returned to work the next day and felt the same. I really didn’t know what was going on and started to get scared. The next morning I called the transplant coordinator at St. Vincent and told her my symptoms and she told me to call my husband and head to Indy, my room would be waiting for me. My heart was starting to fail and was not pumping blood the way it should to my lungs and body. On February 7, 2012 they put in a Picc Line and started me on this med to serve as a bridge to transplant. It would either make me feel better or worse. It had different effects on everyone. I did great on it and was discharged on the 11th. It was hard getting used to caring this pump around but you do what you have to if you wish to survive. Being placed on the pump did bump me up on the list to a 1B. I went back to Indy on the 21st for a follow up, I remember asking the doctor. So now that I am a 1B how much longer do you think I have to wait?  Now, I find humor in his reply; he said, it could be tonight, tomorrow or next month. We just don’t know. I returned to work the next day, pump and all. On my way home from work my husband called to tell me that I had a nurse coming and not to eat or drink anything. I found this strange but just said okay. When I pulled in my drive he was on the porch waiting and just looked me right in the eye and said they have your heart, I said stop playing. His eyes started to tear up and I knew it was real; the moment I had been preparing for was upon me and I was not prepared at ALL. He said they told him just to sit by the phone until they called after finding out if it was a good heart and that it was a match. That was a long 3 hours! The call came in and the race was on, we decided not to call anyone until we were for sure that the heart was good. We got in the car and started on the adventure of a lifetime. Paul remained completely calm while I called everyone I could think of; family, friends, and work you name it. I was so excited, overwhelmed, scared, nervous, anxious, happy, sad and so much more all at one time. I never thought it was possible for you to feel that many emotions at one time. They called me on the road and told me to report to the ER because it was 11:30 pm and to let them know I was there for a heart transplant. I remember Paul pulling me up to the door and saying go in, I will park the car. I ran through the doors and to the desk and blurted out, “I am here for a heart transplant!” I think I scared the poor girl. Once they had me upstairs and prepping me for the surgery I prayed over and over for me and for the donor and his or her family. I knew that even though I was receiving the ultimate gift there was a family somewhere out there mourning the loss of a loved one. Time stood still then it would speed up. The next thing I remember is waking up and I had a new heart and I was alive. My husband had kept everyone up-to-date on Facebook. He documented on my page everything they updated him with. I remember reading it the next morning. In less than 24 hours I was sitting in a chair drinking a cup of coffee and watching the news. My surgeon came in and was shocked, he looked at me and ask what I thought I was doing, I replied with, watching the news and drinking coffee. He said can’t you hold still, it hasn’t even been 24 hours, I just smiled. He had told us in the beginning the average stay is 3 weeks; I was discharged in 7 days.

I have almost had my new heart for a year now and I am doing fabulous. I was on the waiting list for my new heart exactly 8 months. I know there is a family out there who is grieving their loss, but I want them to know they made an unselfish decision. I think the reason I strive to get better so fast is to honor my donor and his family for giving me my second chance. It really is the ultimate gift that one can give. I feel that all this was meant to happen in the order it did by the grace of GOD. When my surgeon removed my heart and was able to really see it, he said it was far worse than all the tests had even showed. He told me I would not have lasted much longer, maybe just weeks. I would love to one day meet the family of my donor and thank them personally for my Gift of Life and the second chance I have been blessed with. I am looking forward to being a Nana for a very long time to come. Please become a donor if you haven’t already and let your wishes be known to your family. Please get the word out on how important this is.