Friday, March 06, 2009

Heart/lung transplant survivor, 63, now a fitness buff

Here's another feel good story of how a life can be transformed by an organ transplant. It's true and as a lung transplant survivor I can tell you that my life sure has changed for the better in many, many ways.

Maureen Sweeney - heart/lung recipient

Maureen works out now six days a week at L.A. Fitness in Andorra. “I’ve become a health nut,” she said. Inset, Maureen and her five-year-old terrier mix rescue, Spunky, appear together briefly in a four-minute video on the Web site for the Perelman Center for Advanced Medicine. (Photo by Len Lear)

By Janet Gilmore The Chestnut Hill Local

“I never doubted I would survive.”——Maureen Sweeney

If you saw Maureen Sweeney, pink and pretty, age 63, on one of the Nordic Track elliptical machines at L. A. Fitness in Andorra, you’d think she was just another slender woman trying to stay in shape. But if she told you why she was at the gym five times a week, you would not only be flabbergasted, but you’d also lose your right to complain about anything for a long time.

In August, 2001, at age 56, Maureen had a heart-lung transplant at the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania. She was the oldest patient to receive a transplant, and has survived for seven years, one of the longest-living heart-lung transplant survivors. She is alive because of the transplanted heart and lungs of a woman who died in an accident.

As a kid in York, Pennsylvania, she played baseball, swam, rode her bike, had a dog — not very different from other kids. Her parents constantly told her “not to exert yourself” because Maureen was born with a hole in her heart, a condition known as Patent Ductus Arteriosus (PDA). She also had rheumatic fever twice as a child. Like most kids, she didn’t know how sick she was.

Despite health problems, Maureen knew from fifth grade that she wanted to be an artist. Which brought her to Moore College of Art here in Philadelphia, a home in Roxborough and a career as a book designer/illustrator. She worked for many years at W .B. Saunders Book Company on Washington Square, designing as many as 30 books a year.

In 1984 Maureen’s heart “felt funny” when she was under her electric blanket or near the microwave oven at work. She thought it was work-related stress, but in fact, her heartbeat had become irregular. She took Quinidine Gluconate for 10 years to regulate the rhythm.

In 1995 she got a cold that didn’t get better. “Do you want to go on any vacations?” Maureen’s cardiologist, Dr. Mariell Jessup, asked.

“Yes, I’d love to go to New Mexico,” replied Maureen.

“Go,” said the doctor.

And Maureen knew she would need “something (surgery), down the road.”

She went to Albuquerque and Santa Fe. She was able to take some beautiful photographs, but the high altitude affected her breathing. When she returned, she was sent to the Transplant Unit at HUP.

When a doctor feels that someone is a candidate for a transplant, the person gets a three-day physical and psychological work-up to determine his/her suitability to receive a transplant. The patient can then choose to be listed into the national computer database of available organs.

“You’ll know when you’re ready to be listed,” she was told.

Maureen resisted being listed because she did not feel sick enough. But her own heart and lungs were getting worse, and her quality of life was declining.

By 1997, her blood oxygen level was only 89 percent. She had trouble breathing. She required oxygen 24 hours a day for three years. “Oxygen was another step down. People notice when you’re on oxygen, and visually, you become a disabled person.”

Maureen had to get a stair-climber for her house. She used many small hand towels to dry herself after a shower because one large towel was too heavy for her. She was dizzy and having vision problems in addition to her breathing problems. Eventually, her friends had to shop for her.

Maureen arranged to give power of attorney to a friend, and for her dog to stay with friends. At the same time, her parents’ health was declining. Maureen, an only child, moved them to an assisted living facility and pre-paid their funerals. Her friends helped her. “You have to have support,” she said.

“I don’t like living like this,” she thought. She suffered heart failure and was admitted to HUP to wait for lungs and a heart. She was officially a transplant patient. She wouldn’t go home for 10 months.

During the four months she was waiting for organs, Maureen drew surrealistic pictures of lungs and hearts “to get a heart and lungs.” Her remarkable friends got permission to put her Toy Fox Terrier, Mollie, in a cage, put the cage on a wheelchair and wheel Mollie up to visit Maureen in the hospital room.

“I used to watch the visitors coming in and out, and I wished I were them, but then I wouldn’t be myself when I got better,” she told herself during her ordeal.

Donor organs must be matched with recipients for size, antigens, blood type, length of time on the waiting list, degree of medical urgency and distance between the donor and the potential recipient. Lungs are the most fragile organs, and can only travel for six hours before they become unusable.

Dr. Bruce Rosengard performed Maureen’s transplant on Aug. 30, 2001. She weighed 89 pounds at the time.

There were complications. She couldn’t walk, her kidneys failed, and she was on a respirator and feeding tube for a year. Her body had to re-learn itself, but there is a happy ending. Twelve months after her surgery, Maureen went home to her beloved house, garden and dog in April, 2002. She was healthy; she was walking, and her kidneys, new heart and lungs were all working. Maureen’s doctor told her, “You are healthier than a 63-year-old without a transplant.”

She goes to L.A. Fitness five times a week. She uses the elliptical machine, lifts some weights and stretches. “I was used to being around sick, slow people,” she said. “I had to get used to the noise of L. A. Fitness in increments.”

Maureen is a former secretary of “Second Chance,” a support group for heart recipients, and a volunteer for “Gift of Life,” an organ procurement group, part of the national United Network for Organ Sharing (UNOS). She says, “Organ transplant works! Tell people to become donors!”

“How does it feel to have someone else’s heart and lungs inside your body?” I asked. Just asking the question gave me the heebie-jeebies, but Maureen answered directly.

“After my transplant, I was in bed, and I decided to put my hand over my chest to feel my new heart beating. I could hardly feel it! It was beating smoothly! It was working! I was blown away! It’s pretty much assimilated now, but it took a while. I came back from nothing because I had a goal. I had parents, a dog, friends and art. The body can come back from nothing — I know this.

“You Have the Power to Save Lives – Sign Your Donor Card & Tell Your Loved Ones of Your Decision”

Register to be a donor in Ontario or Download Donor Cards from Trillium Gift of Life Network
For other Canadian provinces click here

In the United States, be sure to find out how to register in your state at ShareYourLife.org or Download Donor Cards from OrganDonor.Gov

In Great Britain, register at NHS Organ Donor Register

In Australia, register at Australian Organ Donor Register

Your generosity can save up to eight lives with heart, kidneys, liver, lungs, pancreas and small intestine transplants. One tissue donor can help up to 100 other people by donating skin, corneas, bone, tendon, ligaments and heart valves



“You Have the Power to Save Lives – Sign Your Donor Card & Tell Your Loved Ones of Your Decision”

Register to be a donor in Ontario or Download Donor Cards from Trillium Gift of Life Network
For other Canadian provinces click here

In the United States, be sure to find out how to register in your state at ShareYourLife.org or Download Donor Cards from OrganDonor.Gov

In Great Britain, register at NHS Organ Donor Register

In Australia, register at Australian Organ Donor Register

Your generosity can save up to eight lives with heart, kidneys, liver, lungs, pancreas and small intestine transplants. One tissue donor can help up to 100 other people by donating skin, corneas, bone, tendon, ligaments and heart valves

6 comments:

Deryck said...

My father, Jack Cooper now living in Bonnyville, Alberta Canada just celebrated his 20th anniversary of his Heart-Double Lung transplant. His operation was performed April 18, 1989 in Vancouver, British Columbia Canada. Do you know how long there is record of living survival of this procedure at this time? My father and our family wonder where he might be on that scale? Thanks,
Deryck Cooper

Mark Black said...

Hi Deryck

First of all, as a Heart-Lung Transplant survivor of 7yrs let me say THANK YOU for the news of your father. It is very encouraging to those of us earlier on in our journey!

I can't say definitively what the "record" is but I have been under the impression that Diane Hebert from Quebec had it at 16-17yrs when she passed away about 1.5-2yrs ago. I could well be wrong though. If you ever find out, let me know,

Wish your Dad good health and all the best for me! It is truly a blessing to hear stories like his!

Merv Sheppard said...

Diane received her transplant November 26, 1985 and passed away June 30th, 2008, just a few months short of her 23rd anniversary. Merv.

Suzanne said...

It is with heavy heart that I inform you Jack Cooper passed away Friday July 23rd, 2010. He survived 21.3 years with his Heart-Double Lung Transplant. He will be missed so very much.

Crystal said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Crystal said...

HI, I am just looking for survivors and family members of Heart/ Lung transplant patient. My family has just begun this journey.... so we are looking for insight about recovery and hope for the future... thank U