My Heart Transplant Journey So Far..

Happy Waitaversary To Me! Today marks the one year anniversary that the United Network of Organ Sharing added me to the national organ transplant wait list. I am very grateful just to be on the transplant list. It is quite an exclusive group, like a posh country club without the fancy food, expensive booze and pretentious conversation.

Looking back at this past year, there have been many changes. Some good, some not so good. The first ten months was filled with travel restrictions, extreme fatigue, emotional instability  and the beginning of my loss in independence. The first thing I have learned after two months residing in the hospital, is those ten months were a cake walk compared to this. I had my furbabies, my husband and we were all together at home. Now we are two hours away from each other. And every day we wait seems like an eternity.

time I have to agree with Dr. Einstein here. Residing in this place I have experienced time on time’s terms. And the terms are, none. It doesn’t exist. It’s an illusion. It’s all relative. When you are living your usual normal life, time seems to fly by. However, when you are waiting for a life saving organ transplant it moves at a snail’s pace. Once I started getting the “go juice” pumping into my heart, the game changed from a physical one to almost all mental/spiritual one. The thoughts foremost in our minds are; how many more days will we have to wait, will they find me a match, and if they don’t, I want to die at home.

Life is constantly surprising me. Death has always been my adversary, now in a strange twist it’s more of an ally to me. And that, my friends is very unsettling. I feel as though we are playing some kind of hellish game. With every thought or prayer of the doctors finding me a donor heart soon, I envision Death waiting in the shadows with an irreverent grin on its nasty face. Yes, I understand that my donor’s death and transition to the next plane will happen regardless of my obtaining a heart. Yet the guilt and sadness lives on. For now.

Some days I feel as though I have woken up in the cuckoos nest and expect to see Jack Nicholson walk around the corner at any moment. These are the times I have to practice self-preservation through self-care. The do not disturb sign goes up, the sleep phones go on and The Honest Guys do their thing. Keeping busy is my salvation here. Working on my writing, practicing meditation, reading, goofing off with the nurses and enjoying family visits have all been my saving grace. I feel there are many more lessons to be learned. Letting go is one of them. For if I can let go, I shall find peace again.

Chelle

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With Love, Humor and Grace

Pulling back from an emotional kiss with my husband, I saw the sadness in his eyes, the sadness that mirrored mine. He didn’t want to leave but I knew he couldn’t stay. Letting our tears flow, we held our embrace a little longer, then walked hand in hand toward the elevators. We expressed our love in a public goodbye, then I stood and watched him go until he was out of sight. I struggled to hold back the flow of tears while George and I turned around, desperate for the refuge of my room.

Almost to my destination, I caught the eye of a nurse whom I have become close to. Noting the look on my face, she asked how if I was alright. I mumbled “Sunday’s are the hardest days”, as tears flowed down my cheeks. She stopped what she was doing, wrapped her arm around me and we walked down the hall. Once in my room, she held me as I cried on her shoulder telling her how much I missed my husband and my home. She explained that being away from those we love can sometimes be a harder struggle than the actual battle we are facing. She reminded me of what I strong woman I am. Reminded me that not only have I have made it this far, but I did so with love, humor and grace. And reminded me that when we get through to the other side of this journey all the suffering and sacrifice that my husband, my family, and I have made will all be worth it.

My strength being renewed, I gave her a hug, thanked her and told her to get back to work. With my head held high, I wiped my tears and told myself I was ready to continue the journey.

I only wish she could have done this for my husband as well.

Chelle


Please register to be an organ donor so someone else doesn’t have to go through what we are. Wwwdonatelife.net/register/

Where I Found Myself

My name’s Chelle and I was lost. Not lost in the sense that I didn’t know which direction to turn, but more in the sense that I lost who I was. I felt like a shell of my former self.

An old friend recently described me as a “wild girl” in my youth. I was as confident, outgoing, spunky and fearless as a girl at a frat party. These traits stayed with me through my twenties when I traded fearlessness for recklessness and negativity. I was in a bad relationship, worked two jobs while going to school full-time and practiced virtually no self-care, ignoring my cardiac situation completely. When the first indication that my health was beginning to fail, I was worn down by life and a bad marriage; I was barely thirty years old. This was the first time I was truly lost. I decided I had enough of my own BS. I put on my big girl panties and took action. I moved back to my home state, reconnected with my family, made an appointment with a cardiologist and divorced my husband. Pretty soon that spitfire girl of my youth was back, wiser and happier than before.

A short time later I met the love of my life. I snatched him up and we were living the dream. Until our world came crashing down in six words. I think it’s time for transplant. We knew this day would eventually come, but it still felt like a punch in the gut. After the initial shock wore off and we devised a game plan, things smoothed out for awhile. But as my heart failure progressed, I became as insecure and timid as a virgin on her wedding night. I slowly lost my independence, my memory and cognitive function declined, then the extreme fatigue set in. I fell into a massive funk. And I stayed there.

You could say I was going through the five stages of grief, and when I fell upon acceptance I settled there like a cat in a sunbeam. I was waiting for a heart transplant and that is exactly what I did. Waited. I kept telling myself I should be enjoying the time I have, spending it wisely. Instead, I went into escape mode. I escaped into everything but life; books, games, tv, food. This wasn’t like the last time I was lost. Before I was able to resurface and regroup. This was different. This time I was stuck like my boots in the spring time mud. Not going anywhere. Complete halt. I tried every tool in my toolbox; meditation, yoga, inspirational reading, praying and short walks in the woods. Nothing. I completely lost my mojo.

By now you’re probably wondering where did I find myself? Where did I wander off to? I was where I have always been. Within. The path I took to find myself started with a gentle nudge from my therapist. “Journal”, she said. I looked at her like she was from another planet. “You’re kidding right? I hate journaling”, I told her. “Just try it for a week or so” she suggested. I rolled my eyes in disdain, and reluctantly agreed. At my next appointment, I had to eat crow. It actually helped to verbally vomit in my notebook. As I continued spewing my emotions on the page, the universe gave me a huge bump. I reconnected with my birth sister Theresa Ann, who is a life coach . With her assistance I started to see glimpses of my old self again. With encouragement from Theresa and my husband, I took my journal and started a blog. My goal was to inspire other patients waiting for transplant and at the same time educate the public of the importance of organ donation. By the time I was admitted to the hospital 34 days ago, I was really finding my voice. The sparky, sarcastic and positive woman was back.

We all feel lost and alone at some point in our lives. We try desperately to climb out of the muck. Our friends, family and therapists can point us in the right direction, however; it is only when we ask ourselves the tough questions and stare into the sometimes terrifying abyss that is within ourselves, do we transform back into the butterfly.

Of course there is the chance I am completely wrong and it is all the go juice (Milrinone) pouring into my vein. Guess we’ll never know!

Chelle

 

Every Obstacle Is An Opportunity

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Officially, I have end stage heart failure. I am on an end stage heart failure medication that flows directly into my heart. Having said this; I, myself, am far from end stage. I have been on the transplant list at a status 1Ae for 26 days now, but whose counting? Actually, UNOS is counting. Every day you wait, counts. I am finally at the top of the list for my blood type and body size, so our wait is nearly over. It is important you know that a heart transplant is not a cure, it is merely an exchange from a terminal illness to a chronic one. And that is fine by me. I know how to do that, have been doing it my whole life.

Being a long-term patient here as been trying at times. I’ve laughed, cried, screamed (internally of course), shook my head, rolled my eyes, and cried some more. And I wouldn’t trade one minute of it. I have literally stripped down my life. No running errands, no business dinners with my husband, no traffic, none of the day to day distractions. I am left with myself. Just me. Just my thoughts. I could ignore them, keep myself distracted in other ways like tv, books or music. But that isn’t me. I embraced my thoughts. I chose to make this experience into an opportunity. I took a hard look at my life, and asked hard questions. My answers have enlightened me.

When faced with the reality that this surgery could lead to the end of my Earthly existence, I realized I have everything I need. Although I am not ready to leave them, I know my family loves me whole heartedly and any past issues are long resolved. I have created and maintained valued friendships, and found my best friend and soul mate. And most importantly, I have found purpose in my writing. I am fulfilled.

When I arrived here, I felt my world had shrunk. I was wrong. My world is overflowing with love, and I have been enlightened spiritually. My life is richer because I am here. For the first time I am fully present. In this moment. Facing my own mortality has taught me many things. Life is not what I do or what I have, but who I am. And that cultivates love. To fully engage with those around me. To listen with purpose and intent, instead of letting my thoughts wander.

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I expressed my gratitude every day leading up to my hospital admission. All our necessities were met; house, car, health insurance, food. Life was great, and we were happy. But some how, I missed it. There are so many more things that I took for granted that I don’t now; fresh air, birds singing, neighbor children’s laughter, the smell of the hardwoods and dirt, sunshine on my face. Even without these things, I am still very happy.

Without death, life would have no meaning. I am fortunate to learn this at such a young age. My journey is nowhere near over, and I will continue to grow and flourish. If I could give you one take away from my experience so far it is this. Don’t be a slave to your work. Sit in quiet reflection. Engage and be present with your loved ones. Because time is an illusion my friends. You’ll blink, and it will gone.

Chelle 

Click here to register to be an organ and tissue donor

 

An Open Letter To My Future Donor

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Dearest Friend,

I feel we’ve met before, on another spiritual plane, in another time. I’ve spoken to you in the morning dawn and whispered to you late at night. You may not be ready to leave yet, and that is okay. No worries, I have time, I can wait. Live your life, have adventures and find love. You and your family have been in the forefront of my mind quite a bit lately. It is hard to express how much love I have for someone I have yet to meet.  I want to assure you that I will honor and celebrate your life everyday. That you will become part of my family and one day I hope to be part of yours.

Together our spirits will become one. We will hunt and camp together, sing in the rain, act silly under a summer full moon and dance by the firelight. I’ll teach you to write, and together we will finish my book. We’ll meditate, pray and be still together; we’ll be active and strong. We’ll see the mountains of Montana and the deserts of Arizona. When I learn more about you, your passions will become mine. We’ll pursue them together. We’ll root for your team and mine.

There is no thank you large enough in this world for the gift you and your family are giving us. You are giving me back my life. You are giving parents more time with their daughter, siblings more experiences to share, nieces and nephews a chance to learn who their Auntie is and a husband more time with the love of his life. The only way I know to repay you is to live everyday to the fullest, to speak your name, share your story and honor your life.

With love and gratitude,

Chelle

Be a hero. Be an organ donor

My Best Birthday Yet

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“There are those who hate to see their birthday arrive. Ah, but not I. For each year is a gift, each day is a gift. I am thankful and am grateful for this day of my birth. I find motivation within to live this year so let it begin!”

~~Theodore W. Higginsworth 

 

Waking to a light rap on my door this morning, I slid my eye mask up to my forehead, took a deep breath and started another day in the hospital. A young care aid pops in with towels for my daily wash up. “Happy 4th of July,” she declares rambling on about how quickly the day arrived and where did the time go. “One’s perspective is relative,” I answer groggily from my bed. Looking at the confusion on her face I explain,”To you it may seem fast, however I have been waiting for a heart transplant for 324 days. To me it feels like an eternity.”

After she leaves, I wash up and eat my fake eggs. Shortly after, my husband shows up bearing gifts and clean clothes. I think I was more excited for the clean underwear than the gifts! We sit on my bed and get down and dirty. Not like that, gutter mind. I opened packages from my family as well as strangers. I was overwhelmed by everyone’s thoughtfulness and generosity. About this time there was a knock on the door, three mail room employees walked in with donuts singing to me. And that was the beginning of a great birthday filled with off-key singing. The doctors sang during rounds, the nurses sang at shift change, and just when I was ready for bed the food service workers sang and presented me with a small cake. In between vampiric nurses and singing doctors, I managed to video chat with my family which was much-needed. I also got to go outside for the first time since I have been here. It was hot a humid and only lasted five minutes, but I was glorious!

Every birthday has been a hard-earned milestone for me. I say this every year, and every year it’s true; I never expected to still be here, which in itself is pretty amazing. I have learned to think of my heart defect as a wonderful gift. This gift has made me grateful for every day, even the bad ones. Having TGA has forced me to realize how valuable and precious time is and has allowed me time to learn beneficial life lessons. For instance:

  • procrastination is for the healthy and the young
  • every moment is a miracle
  • don’t waste time on false or toxic people
  • always check my feet for slippers before leaving the house

Today I proven once again, no matter what my circumstances, with a positive attitude and the love of family, friends and strangers I can make any day into a wonderful one.

Chelle

Be A Hero. Be An Organ Donor.

 

 

What I Do All Day

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Morning comes early here in the hospital with whispers by a nurse with a vampire fetish. Clicking on a dim light, she sucks blood from my PICC line into small tubes while I try to continue snoozing.  As she opens my door to leave, the white hall light splashes across my floor while the dings of my neighbor’s call bell sounds urgently. I roll over snuggling down trying to get comfortable, when I hear a soft rap on the door. What seemed like 10 minutes was actually two hours. It’s the care aid with a giant scale for my daily weigh in. I can’t help but feel like a resident at a weight loss camp. I bet they don’t get weighed in at 6 am though. After I see my bright red numbers appear she hands me my telemetry monitor, I gather my tubes, IV pole (which I named George) and shuffle back to bed.

An hour and a half later, I am lightly snoring away in dream land when I hear a light knock at my door. The door opens to the commotion of the nurse shift change. My night nurse bids me farewell till evening, while my day nurse takes my vitals and hands me morning meds. I slide to the edge of the bed, grab a hold of George and my tubes then  to the bathroom where I pee into what they call a hat. It looks like an upside down white hat, sits in the toilet and measures my output. Good times! I wash up for the day, grab George, gather my tubes and head to my recliner where I wait for my low sodium fake eggs and potatoes which I heavily cover in ketchup. I hear the pleasant ring of my video messenger and have a lovely chat with my husband before his meetings start for the day.

Shortly after that the nurse practitioner/fellow come in to see how I feel and my night was. I tell them what I told my nurse, they do a quick assessment and off they go. Then I settle in with a little light reading, currently The Heart of the Buddha’s Teaching, while I wait for the attending doctor to come around. Depending on the day, what happens next can vary. Once a week my PICC dressing gets changed, twice a week my tubes/caps get changed, twice a week my linen get changed and daily my room gets cleaned. If it is the last two I like to go for a walk, I can’t stand the smell of hospital disinfectant. When they are through I saturate everything with lavender water.

Back in my recliner, I listen to the buzz of activity in hallway. I feel like I’m living in a small town and peeking out the windows.  Engrossed in my reading and note taking, I am distracted by a call of yoo-hoo at my door. My nurse walks in with more meds, a new milrinone bag and takes my vitals, again. About this point my attending doctor, which changes every few days but is always a heart failure doc, comes in with his entourage of fellows, students and groupies. Today is Doctor Ramani. A tall Indian man with kind eyes. I repeat to him what I have told the three people before him and he tells me what the attending before him did. “It is just a waiting game now and we will make it homey as possible for you.” Ok, then.

After another trip to the bathroom, dang the IV lasix works well. Me and George go for a late morning stroll down the hall. I walk and George rolls about 75 feet, then I return to my room. I curl back up in my recliner, pop open my laptop, find a good movie to watch and wait for my lunch to appear. My favorite is the hot turkey with mashed potatoes and carrots. I have to say it is a strange feeling not to be able to go to the fridge anytime I wish. I do however have a snack drawer and the nurses let me store things in their fridge. When I am done eating, someone comes in and grabs my food tray. Then my nurse pops back in with more meds, vital check and blood draw. Are you seeing a pattern here?

Now I am free until my next meds/vital check at 5:00. I usually try to walk every hour if possible, take a nap and do some writing. Walking the halls is a good distraction because I can chat with people. Mainly the nurses so far, it seems I am the only patient up moving around. My day is also sprinkled with battery changes, extra meds (potassium, magnesium), aids documenting my input/output, and just random whatever.

Around 6:00, I am back in my recliner to await my dinner drop off. I should explain that I get a menu everyday to choose what I want for the next day. I usually make substitutions of course, I like something lighter for dinner. The food isn’t too horrible if you know what to order. I like to walk a bit after I eat then wash up and settle in bed for the night. By 8:00 I am nestled down in my bed, my video messenger ringer goes off and I chat with my lovable hubby again. After we blow kisses and say our good nights, I practice a little meditation to boost my spirit and clear my mind. Just as I am getting drowsy, there is a knock at the door. My day nurse pops her head in to say she’ll see me tomorrow and my night nurse walks in. See gives me more meds, checks my vitals and says she’ll be back in a couple of hours to draw blood. Of course she will. And like clock work, the vampire nurse is comes in, clicks on a dim light and sucks blood from my PICC line.

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Soul Mates

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I believe Rumi said it best when he stated,

“The minute I heard my first love story I started looking for you, not knowing how blind I was. Lovers don’t finally meet somewhere. They’re in each other all along.”

I am so fortunate and grateful to have found my soul mate. So many people these days never find that connection. Our spark was instantaneous and strong. We complete each other. Our souls intertwine perfectly.

Although Bill was in the medical field, I was nervous about explaining my cardiac situation and future transplant.  You see, my first marriage sort of imploded partly due to the fact that my ex wasn’t mature enough to handle my illness. I never expected to find a man who would not only be accepting of my impending heart failure diagnosis, but would jump right in to the chaos with me. But that is exactly what Bill did, with a “bring it on” attitude.

My health stayed stable for the first couple years of our relationship, then it took a nasty downhill ride, like a skier on a black diamond slope. This was the start of his caregiver metamorphosis. He takes care of me in so many different ways, a loving approach and a no complaints. Sitting in on countless doctor visits and sleepless nights in uncomfortable hospital rooms, holding my hand through it all. And when everything seems to much for me to handle, he is at his best; holding me, wiping away my tears and whispering encouraging words. He restores my hope and faith.

We are grateful for everyday we have together, more than other couples it seems. We understand how precious life really is, how health can change in an instant. Our unity is strong, I know we can withstand anything that comes our way. My heart transplant is a perfect opportunity for us to grow stronger and deepen our love.

We chose each other long before we came to our Earthly bodies and we will be joined together again when we leave them.

Support For #aheartforchelle 

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“You gave me a rare man God, I’ve loved him well”