Danielle, 22

At a Glance:

  • Danielle was born with Marfan syndrome, a genetic disorder that affects connective tissue, so she was screened for heart problems regularly.
  • In 2011, doctors discovered that a massive infection of her heart had led to endocarditis.
  • Surgeons hoped to repair the damage to her heart, but while Danielle was sedated and waiting for her surgery to begin in the operating room, her heart stopped.
  • The SynCardia temporary Total Artificial Heart (TAH) was her only option for survival. After three weeks of support with the TAH, Danielle received a donor heart.

Danielle, 22, was born with Marfan syndrome, a genetic disorder that affects connective tissue. When her aorta became enlarged — a common complication of the disease — Danielle underwent surgery to receive an aortic graft and a pacemaker. While she felt fine after the surgery, her energy levels never returned to normal. An active member of the dance team in high school, Danielle felt fatigued and took several long naps each day.

Two years later, Danielle thought she was having a hard time shaking off the flu, but her symptoms quickly worsened. When she arrived at her doctor’s office, she couldn’t even make it to the building from her car.

Danielle’s doctor sent her to the hospital immediately. Tests for pneumonia revealed that a massive infection of her heart had led to endocarditis, inflammation of the inside lining of the heart chambers and valves.

“I was told the infection was like ping pong balls all over my heart, the pacemaker wires and the valves,” said Danielle. The infection had also spread to her kidneys, spleen and lung.

After a heavy regimen of antibiotics, surgeons hoped to repair the damage to her heart, but while lying sedated in the operating room awaiting surgery, Danielle’s heart stopped. Luckily, surgeons were able to quickly transfer her to a bypass machine, saving her vital organs from further damage.

Doctors gave Danielle’s parents three options: do nothing, repair what they could before her organs gave out, or implant the SynCardia temporary Total Artificial Heart (TAH) to keep her alive until a donor heart became available. Knowing that their daughter could have a long and happy life ahead of her, her parents chose the TAH.

Danielle post-transplant with her husband, Chris, and their son, Aiden.

My mom knew I didn’t want to die at 22, so they decided the SynCardia Total Artificial Heart was the only option.

Danielle

Recovery and Transplant

When Danielle woke up after the implant surgery, she was shocked to find herself without a heart, but quickly appreciated the difference the SynCardia TAH made. “Physically, I could tell that my body was working better,” she said. “I was awake most of the day, which was a new thing for me.”

During her recovery, Danielle pushed herself to walk a little farther each day until she could traverse the entire hospital floor. Three weeks later, she learned that a donor heart had been found and she received her heart transplant. She was discharged from the hospital two weeks later.

Danielle went on to earn her associate’s degree in early childhood development, graduating with honors. Today, she continues her career as an infant teacher. In her spare time, she and her mother volunteer for Donate Life to encourage organ donation.

Thanks to the SynCardia TAH, Danielle was able to marry her longtime partner, Chris, who stood by her side throughout the transplant process, and proposed on the day of her discharge from the hospital. Soon after, they celebrated their marriage with more than 300 friends and family members.

“I would have missed all of that,” said Danielle. “Now look at what I get to look forward to because the SynCardia artificial heart was available to me. I’m so blessed with everything that’s coming. I try not to take one moment for granted.”