six faces of the same woman showing a range of emotions

Perspectives After a Sudden Heart Transplant

I am currently a young resident physician living in Philadelphia. Originally from Los Angeles, I had big dreams of becoming a doctor ever since I was a child. After lots of hard work, four years of college, a year of graduate school, four years of medical school…my dream came true. Somehow, everything came together. I was completing my final year of Emergency Medicine residency training in Philadelphia in December 2018 when my life completely changed.

My next challenging chapter

At that time, I was 30 years old. In between working my 12-hour shifts, I was spending my free time with loving friends, eating good food, and watching true crime documentaries. I was obsessed with my lifelong hobby of photography. I enjoyed being involved with extracurriculars and academic research. I exercised when I had the chance to, and I cooked a few times a week to get my mind off of my stressful schedule. I was also getting ready to move to New York City to complete further training in Critical Care Medicine. I absolutely loved resuscitating patients and also seeing their long-term outcomes after spending time in the Intensive Care Unit. Passionate about my career, I was ready for my next challenging chapter in medical training.

What I thought was a cold

I was a little bit “sick” though. I had “a little bit” of a cold. Or what I thought was a cold. That winter, I had a terrible cough for a few weeks that just wasn’t going away. This cough got worse mid-December, and I even began having some shortness of breath. This was very frightening for me. As an ER doctor, I knew that something might have been wrong, but I didn’t know exactly what or how bad my condition would actually be. Thus, I walked over to the emergency department-- as a patient and not as a doctor. Absolutely afraid.

Short of breath with a high heart rate

My own attending physician decided to admit me to the hospital because of my condition. I was short of breath with a high heart rate, and apparently, I looked blue. I was very hesitant about the admission, but I finally gave in and was taken upstairs. While I was on the medical floors, I began feeling very lightheaded, cold, and nauseated. I knew that something was wrong. I looked up at the monitor and realized that my heart rate was quickly declining.

At one point, I remember my heart rate being somewhere in the 30s. Dozens of people swarmed into my room. I don’t remember much from this, but I do remember nurses and doctors trying to put pacer pads on my chest to restart my heart, in case it stopped.

I had no idea what had happened

I woke up from a coma about a day later and had no idea what had happened to me. But the doctors around me looked concerned. One of the physicians suggested that it may be my heart. Likely impossible, given my age and health, but we did some studies on my heart and realized that, yes, my poor heart was barely functioning.

I was in acutely decompensated heart failure. After more tests, we found out that it was because I had familial dilated cardiomyopathy. It had gone undiagnosed for several years and suddenly decided to show up in 2018, while I was getting excited for the next chapter of my life.

I needed an urgent heart transplant

My heart’s function was not improving, despite how aggressive we were with medications. And that’s when I was told that I needed an urgent heart transplant if I wanted to continue to live my life.

I was in shock, but logically accepted this treatment option. I knew that it was what I needed to have the best quality of life from here forth. I knew that if I declined, I would die. I think that being a physician helped me with the process. In my opinion, it was a lot more difficult to relay all of this information to those in my family who were not in the medical field.

Less than two weeks later, I received my very special heart transplant.

An incredible journey

There were a lot of unknowns and I was obviously a little anxious about the open-heart surgery and everything that it would come with afterward. But what I did know was this: I knew that after the surgery was over, I wanted to do something with my life for the organ donor community, and for people with heart disease and heart failure.

Within days, I added new life goals to my old ones. I couldn’t necessarily control what had already happened to me, but I could now control how I felt about the situation, and what I would do from here out that could help others in similar situations. I was going to use my platform as a doctor (and now, doctor-patient) to help others in a way that I wouldn’t have been able to before.

And through that perspective, my journey with a heart transplant this last year has been an incredible one thus far.

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