Gratitude Friday was started by Diana of Creative Structures to encourage us to appreciate the good things in our lives rather than dwelling on the problems.
This week I am grateful for the continuing good health of my sister's second daughter Patti. October 21st marks the 9th anniversary of Patti's heart/lung transplant at Stanford University Medical Center.
Patti was born with an inoperable congenital heart defect, and she wasn't expected to survive past her teens. She was put on the transplant list in 1998 for both heart and lungs - her lungs, which included no true pulmonary arteries, had been compromised by her failing heart. Her health was declining by 2000, and she had to carry a portable oxygen tank with her a lot of the time.
After 16 months on the waiting list, a matching heart and lungs became available on 10/21/00 and Patti's transplant surgery was performed. Here she is 30 minutes after the surgery - her sister Kathleen is watching over her.
This photo was taken in the first 24 hours - they have her up eating jello.
For two months she had to live in an apartment close to Stanford for her follow-up care. My sister stayed with her there to be the resident nurse.
This photo was taken early in 2003 and shows Patti with celebrated transplant physician Dr. Norman Shumway and Patti's own doctor, James Theodore, who was extremely proud of her progress. Both doctors have since died. Here is the story of that day.
And, miraculously, at one of the transplant gatherings, Patti even met the family of her donor. It was a bittersweet moment for all of them, but Patti has kept in contact with them and has even visited their home. Can you imagine meeting the person who has your loved one's heart?
Another miracle in this story was the fact that two years after her transplant, Patti ran in the Maui Marathon and raised over $6,000 for the benefit of the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society. She was never allowed to exert herself physically during her growing-up years, so this was truly unbelievable to everyone who knew her.
I am so proud of my niece - she has been through a lot and has had the courage to press on. She is my hero! And I am grateful for the heroes in my life!
Go to page 2 to read the San Jose Mercury-News story on Patti when she ran in the Maui Marathon.
I would have posted a link to this story instead of copying the whole thing, but it was in their pay-per-article archives.
San Jose Mercury News (CA)
November 2, 2002
A WHOLE NEW LIFE
TRANSPLANT HELPS TURN WOMAN INTO A MARATHON RUNNER
'ALL MY LIFE, I WASN'T ABLE TO DO MUCH. I COULD NEVER RUN BECAUSE I'D BECOME REALLY, REALLY OUT OF BREATH'
Patti Arnett could barely walk up a flight of stairs before her heart-lung transplant; now she is an avid runner.
Heart-lung transplant recipient Patti Arnett, who got her new organs in 2000, works out at a Santa Cruz gym. She competed in the Maui Marathon in September.
They're secondhand heart and lungs, but strong enough to turn 35-year-old Patti Arnett of Santa Cruz into the athlete she never before could be.
Replacements for her own failing organs, they spent their first four decades in a Modesto woman, who was accidentally killed while crossing a street.
Then, after being transplanted into Arnett, they helped propel her in September's Maui Marathon, a grueling 7 1/2-hour race through heat, humidity and hilly terrain. Now she has the chance to do ordinary things just as thrilling -- playing with her daughter, dancing with her husband and climbing the stairs to the front door of her apartment.
''It amazes me to see how far I can go,'' she said. ''I'd never felt a 'muscle burn' in my whole life,'' she said. ''More and more, I want to push myself.''
An accomplishment for anyone, the Maui Marathon and other athletic competitions are especially remarkable for transplant patients. Relying on organs that belonged to someone else, taking powerful drugs to prevent organ rejection, they strive for strength and independence.
It is a measure of how far transplant medicine has progressed since 1967, when South African cardiologist Christiaan Barnard made headlines by performing the first heart transplant in the world. Improved surgical and post-recovery techniques are allowing patients such as Arnett to live longer after transplants -- and to do far more.
Last autumn, Kelly Perkins of Laguna Niguel became the first heart transplant recipient to climb one of the world's seven summits (the tallest mountain on each continent), scaling nearly 20,000 feet to reach the top of Mount Kilimanjaro in Africa. She has also climbed 8,842-foot Half Dome in Yosemite National Park, 14,495-foot Mount Whitney and 12,388-foot Mount Fuji in Japan, where she spread the ashes of the woman whose heart beat inside her.
Just getting dressed in the morning was once a marathon effort for Arnett.
Born with a hole in her heart, Arnett was expected to die before the age of 8. The structural problem, called ventricular septal defect, could not be fixed by surgery and affected not only her heart's strength but also her ability to breathe.
Her body was like a Porsche with a blown engine, crippled on the side of the highway.
''All my life, I wasn't able to do much,'' she said. ''I could never run because I'd become really, really out of breath. I guess, before I was 5 or so, I could run around a little bit. But by the time I was school age, I was so out of breath that it wasn't possible.
''You convince yourself that you don't want to do it anyway,'' she said. ''But it's hard, not being able to go on hikes, or dance, or ride a bike. . . . I'd plan out my day so I'd not have to go back up the stairs. I'd stay indoors a lot.''
A short walk would cause her to gasp for breath. Twice, she suffered mild heart attacks -- manifested as the feeling of a blunt weight forced against her chest, radiating down her arm and up into her neck and shoulders. She would break out into a cold sweat.
But the nights were most frightening. ''A lot of nights I felt so bad, I'dthink, 'Please don't let me die.' My heart would hurt from lack of oxygen. During the day, you can make sure you're still breathing -- but at night, you're afraid you won't wake up.''
The pumping action of her heart continued to weaken, and blood backed up into her lungs. With her heart squeezing out only a small percentage of its normal capacity, there was barely enough blood to fuel her body and brain. At night, she was hooked up to an oxygen tank.
After 16 months on the transplant waiting list, Arnett received a heart and two lungs at Stanford University Medical Center in October 2000. She was lucky: That same year, 43 other patients died while waiting for the same type of transplant, according to the United Network for Organ Sharing in Richmond, Va., an organization that helps connect donated organs to needy patients.
More than 200 Americans are on the waiting list for a heart-lung donation. Tens of thousands more await other organs.
After Arnett's transplant, Stanford doctors gave her a chance to see her old damaged lungs. They also let her hold her old heart and say goodbye to the organ that had worked to keep her alive for so long. ''It was really nice,'' she said, ''because I used to talk to it all the time, hoping to keep it going.''
The transplant offered a second chance at life -- a life far different from her first.
The Maui Marathon was a way to celebrate. A fundraiser for leukemia and lymphoma research, it also was a way to help sick people the way she had been helped. Although fatigued afterward, her biggest complaint was a blister from her shoes.
''I've always felt a little left out, because I couldn't do things for other people,'' Arnett said. ''It felt like I was sitting on the bench on the sidelines -- and now I'm on the team.
''Now, every day, I feel like I can participate,'' she said. ''I feel more alive.''