By Lorelei Hill
23 Sep

My Journey: Waiting for a Heart Transplant

Friday, September 23, 2011

Each morning, a choir of birds positions itself outside my bedroom window. Once in place, the concert begins.

“Ode to the morning! It’s a bright new day,” they seem to be singing.

Autumn has always been one of my favorite seasons, this year even more so. Three years ago, after a series of dizzy spells and ongoing arrhythmia, my cardiologist suggested I “make some lifestyle changes.” Up until then I never really considered how having tricuspid atresia might one day restrict my life. I scoffed and told myself I’d be okay. I’ve always been okay.

When a few months later, he approached the topic of transplant, I took notice. Well, sort of. I quit volunteering and made afternoon naps a welcome part of my weekend routine. But as the October days turned cold and the November snow began to fall, the dizzy spells became more frequent.

Three weeks before Christmas, my husband was cooking dinner while I read with our six-year-old. Beginning in my legs, a peculiar sensation moved upward through my body, creating a pounding sound in my ears. Falling limp, I slid to the floor. All but my hearing had ceased to function.

“Mommy! Mommy!” My baby screamed, but the room had disappeared. Minutes, perhaps hours passed before the wail of sirens pulled me from a dreamless sleep.

Twelve hours later, with no idea as to why I collapsed, doctors in our small town ER ordered bed rest and sent me home. When you grow up a cardiac kid, you come to appreciate the handful of people who get your condition. Well-meaning health care professionals do their best, but we know when it’s time to seek the care of our specialized cardiac team.

My plan was to call my cardiologist first thing Monday morning. My husband and children tended to me, so for the weekend, I was free!

When the Monday morning gale of activity began, so did my daily routine. Rushing my children along, I felt that strange warmth well inside me again. “Call Daddy,” I cried before falling to the floor.

“Can you hear me, Lorie?” the chief of our ER asked as he squeezed my hand.

My husband’s face flashed before my eyes. In the distance I heard my brother and sister-in-law whispering. A flash of family members, and out of the blue, my sister! Five years estranged, hers was the last face I expected to see.

Three days later, I awoke in the critical cardiac care unit at Toronto General Hospital. An embolism had nearly taken my life. Now on the heart transplant list, I take a handful of pills each day, and another each night. I have been advised to stay at home during the winter to avoid the cold, and in the summer the heat. I travel three hours to the city each month to see my transplant/cardiac care team. I can no longer go to the beach with my family, or attend my children’s ice times.

On the upside, I’ve traded my job to pursue my dream of writing. Now, I’m at home when kids the need me. Two years later, I still get to hug my babies and tease my husband. My sister is back in my life. My youngest brother just got married.

Autumn will turn to winter, and then to spring. Spring will turn to summer. At some point during it all, mid-day or perhaps midnight, I will be rushed to the hospital. Taking from me what has always been broken, my doctors will replace it with a previously loved heart. I will recover to once again hear my children laugh, and those beautiful birds join in concert outside my window.

Come join me for the ride. Some days are filled with laughter, and some a little sorrow. Tricuspid atresia has indeed affected my life, but not always in a bad way…

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