Shawn, 38

At a Glance:

  • Shawn was diagnosed with heart failure while three months pregnant. Luckily, doctors were able to stabilize her with medication, and she went on to have a healthy delivery.
  • Although her symptoms re-emerged a year later, Shawn and her doctors were able to manage her condition for seven years. However, after coming down with a virus, Shawn had to be hospitalized and was listed for a heart transplant.
  • As she waited, Shawn grew sicker and sicker. With time running out, doctors decided to implant the SynCardia temporary Total Artificial Heart (TAH) to bridge her to a heart transplant.
  • Shawn was discharged home using the Freedom® Portable Driver, and after 60 days of life with the TAH, she received a heart transplant.

Shawn was first diagnosed with heart failure at age 30 while three months pregnant with her daughter Hannah. She had been experiencing shortness of breath and difficulty walking from her bedroom to the bathroom. She was hospitalized for about three weeks, and doctors were able to stabilize her with medication. Shawn started seeing a specialist since it was a high-risk pregnancy and went on to have a healthy delivery.

A year later, however, Shawn began experiencing the same symptoms, as well as swelling in her legs and feet. She was admitted to the hospital again, and this time, doctors told her there was a strong possibility that she would need a heart transplant.

“I was pretty much in denial for quite some time,” said Shawn. “I thought, hey, if that’s what I have to do, I’ll go see the specialist, but I don’t need a transplant. I was 31 years old with a one-year-old baby… I thought there’s just no way I can go through this.”

Shawn was transferred to Texas Heart Institute, where her cardiologist told her, “You’re young. You feel good. You have a daughter. Let’s put this transplant off as long as possible.”

Shawn was able to delay the transplant for the next seven years, but in February 2011, she came down with a virus that she couldn’t shake and ended up back in the hospital.

“My cardiologist told me we had gotten all the miles we could out of my heart and that they were going to start working me up for a transplant,” said Shawn. “It was beyond my ability to grasp. You hear about heart transplants, but you never really think it’s going to happen to you. They got me on the transplant list, but I got sicker and sicker as I waited. Every night we prayed for a heart to come and it just never did.”

Shawn was discharged from the hospital to wait for a matching donor heart at home using the Freedom® Portable Driver, pictured in the Shoulder Bag.

The first thing my family said after the surgery was they could not believe how pink my skin was and how deep the color of my lips was because I was getting oxygen for the first time in months. I could breathe when I walked and I didn’t feel like I was going to suffocate. It was like an elephant had been sitting on my chest and then suddenly that elephant got off.


A Bridge to Transplant

With time running out, doctors at Texas Heart Institute implanted the SynCardia temporary Total Artificial Heart (TAH) to save her life and bridge her to a heart transplant.

Just a month after her surgery, Shawn was stable enough to be switched to the Freedom® Portable Driver, a smaller, lighter pump for the TAH that allows stable patients to wait for a matching donor heart at home.

Shawn was discharged from the hospital just in time to take her daughter to school for her first day of second grade. Shawn said she is very grateful for the support she received from her family and her husband, Joel, who is a pastor.

“I never once woke up in the hospital in the middle of the night by myself,” said Shawn. “Joel was my rock. When my feet needed rubbing, he rubbed them. When I was crying, it was his shoulder I was crying on. The same goes for my mom, who took care of Hannah. I couldn’t have done it without them.”

While waiting for her donor heart, Shawn was able to go shopping at the mall, go out to dinner with her family and attend church to hear her husband preach. After 60 days of support with the SynCardia TAH, Shawn received her heart transplant.

“I woke up after the transplant and told my husband we need to thank God for my donor heart and pray for my donor family who is going through an excruciating time,” said Shawn, who sent a letter to her donor’s family. “While we were thrilled for the new life that had been given to me, we also felt terrible for their loss.”

Today, Shawn gives back by volunteering every Wednesday at Texas Heart Institute, talking to other patients who are waiting for a transplant as someone who has been through it.

“Coming up on 9 months since my transplant, I feel great, I feel amazing,” said Shawn. “I feel better than I’ve felt in years, maybe even my entire life. It is possible to make it through this, not only because of the technology but also because of the grace of God. I would encourage people to sign up to be donors because there is an extreme shortage. People are dying every day because they need an organ and none become available.”

When she spends time with her family, including the baby they adopted in September 2012, Shawn thinks of her donor.

“My donor was a 35-year old woman. I’m just four years older than that,” Shawn said. “I wrote a letter to her family, knowing I might never hear from them. I wanted to reach out to them and let them know I think about them every day and remember her life. I can’t even express in words how I feel towards them and how I feel about her. Every birthday, every holiday, I think about them and wonder what they are doing and how they are coming through this first year without their loved one.”

Photo credits: Thomas Nguyen