Heart transplant recipient views old organ for closure, encourages donors
Published Friday, November 30, 2012 2:21PM MST
Last Updated Friday, November 30, 2012 7:15PM MST
It’s something most who have had transplants choose not to do: view their old organ after the operation.
But months after receiving a new heart to replace her failing one, an Edmonton woman was given the opportunity to see her old organ and she chose to say goodbye to what caused her decades of pain.
“It was sick for a long time and this was the reason I was sick for a long time,” Bolger said.
“To me, it’s closure. I know now that the heart I have now is better than what I did (have).”
Pathologist Dr. Atilano Lacson, showed Bolger her old heart, and explained just how sick it was.
“If you can imagine this heart as a pump, the biggest part here of the left ventricle is no longer contracting,” Lacson said.
“(It’s) very, very sick and as Agnes can testify, it must have felt very, very uncomfortable inside her chest with the chest pains and all of that.”
Bolger says she will never forget the day, three months ago, when she received the call that a new heart was available for her.
“She asked me ‘how soon can you get here?,’ I said ‘I’m there,’” Bolger said with a laugh.
Before the transplant, simple actions like eating and walking were difficult.
“Turning in bed was a problem, eating was a problem,” Bolger said.
“It was a lot of pain, a lot of chest pains… when I walked I got very exhausted.”
Lacson says Bolger’s old heart is large and a result of stage four heart failure, meaning it wasn’t able to pump enough blood and oxygen to the rest of her body.
His team performed a number of tests on Bolger to ensure she wouldn’t reject the new one, before proceeding with the transplant.
“I marvel at her almost miraculous recovery despite all of these obstacles in her way,” Lacson said.
She had been on a machine called Heartware for 15 months while she was waiting for her transplant.
Dr. Dennis Modry says advances in medicine and technology – like the Heartware device - have made a huge difference in helping patients who need transplants.
“We are now able to support people who haven’t had enough time for a donor to become available and this buys them that time,” Modry said, point “That’s a huge change.”
Modry performed the first transplant in western Canada in 1985.
He says that was the beginning of what is now the largest heart transplant program in the country, and has consequently paved the way for even more transplant programs.
“The heart transplant program then led to the lung transplant program and the heart and lung transplant program led to liver transplant program and pancreatic islet transplant program,” Modry said.
“There’s been a real evolution of some very talented people who have come here.”
Bolger hopes her story will encourage Albertans to sign their donor cards – an act she said helped save her life.
“I’m a brand new person,” she said. “I want to share my story because there are a lot of people out there who don’t have their donor cards signed.”
Modry says signing the universal donor card not only gives new life to people in need, but also helps grieving families.
“It truly is a gift of life to a whole bunch of other people,” he said.
“It’s a wonderful way that families can really; truly derive some satisfaction, understanding and comfort from their loss.”
With files from Carmen Leibel