This picture was taken less than a year after I had a heart transplant. I’m on the left, sitting next to my little sister Emily. We were 14 and 12 years old. A year earlier, in June 2001, I was finishing my first year of high school in Gatineau and looking forward to going on my first end of year trip to La Ronde theme park in Montreal.
I first started to notice I couldn’t sleep. I was exhausted and would eventually fall asleep sitting up. I then noticed I was not able to go up the stairs at school without huffing and puffing for 20 minutes into my class. We had no idea what was going on. My mom brought me to the hospital. I struggled up the ER ramp and from there, things get foggy.
I remember waking up at the Ottawa Heart Institute surrounded by faces I didn’t know, telling me things about myself I didn’t understand and all I could think was “don’t look down”. I knew my body was no longer under my control. A machine was now in control for me. I wasn’t ready to see it yet. I wasn’t ready to find out my heart was dying.
It wasn’t long before I realized I wasn’t going to La Ronde. It wasn’t much longer before I felt I was ruining Father’s Day for my dad because we were stuck in the hospital. Shortly after that, Canada day passed. Then the summer was gone, and I was missing my first day of school. I started to worry I would miss Christmas and my birthday and when I thought of those things, I’d really get discouraged.
On October 15th, the Heart Institute had to send me home. I had been outside my province too long and would lose my health insurance. They set me up at home with batteries for my machine and a docking station to charge it. The machine was about the size of carry-on luggage and I was pretty determined to not have anyone see me. I felt weak and sad. I was upset that this memory was now going to infiltrate my home. But I was never afraid, and I never lost hope.
That same day, while playing Super Mario, I got the call. I burst into tears. That’s the first time I was scared. On October 16th after a long night of waiting, I had the heart transplant surgery. A few hours after, I woke up and walked around, free of tubes and wires. 10 days later I walked out. I’ve never missed a holiday, birthday or field trip since. Last year I celebrated turning 30 and went to the transplant games with my family. If someone I’ll never know hadn’t been a registered donor, I wouldn’t be here.
Laura – Heart Recipient