Staying true to her heart

Andrea Clegg was in the middle of her wedding reception speech when her cardioverter defibrillator sent a shock to her heart to keep it from stopping suddenly.The device had been implanted a year earlier when she was diagnosed with cardiomyopathy,a serious disease of the heart muscle. Instead of enjoying her first dance with her new husband, Shaun, the couple was whisked away in an ambulance.

Doctors at the local hospital were able to stabilize Andrea but her condition worsened over the next few months. Without a new heart, Andrea would surely die of heart failure.Waiting on an organ transplant list is always difficult but finding a good match for Andrea was especially challenging due to her small size, blood type and the fact she was only in her 20s.With no donor heart in sight, Andrea was taken to Toronto General Hospital, expert in the implantation of mechanical hearts-a life-saving bridge to transplant.

After a year on the transplant list,Andrea got the call she had been waiting for just a few days before Christmas. “It was early in the morning when we got the call from the hospital that they had a heart,” recalls Andrea. “I think I knew before I actually woke up.”The couple rushed to Toronto General Hospital, where Andrea’s family gathered around her bedside singing Christmas carols. The operation took six hours.

“I was off life-support the same day as my surgery,” says Andrea. “By the next day, I was standing up.”

Two of Andrea's "heroes":Dr. Robert Cusimano (I) and Dr.Vivek Rao (r) give Andrea a new heart.

Two of Andrea’s “heroes”:Dr. Robert Cusimano (I) and Dr.Vivek Rao (r) give Andrea a new heart.

Just 10 days later, Andrea was back home with her husband, eager to start her new life.”I really feel great,” says Andrea. The 27-year-old is already starting to exercise again, having to remind herself to take it easy as the first six months after an organ transplant are critical. “My transplant team is monitoring me very closely for any signs of organ rejection.” Andrea says of her regular biopsies.”It’s actually a nice comfort to verify things are under control and it’s always nice to see the awesome transplant team.”

To keep her and her new heart healthy,Andrea must follow a strict medication schedule, taking 30 pills a day of a dozen different types. “All of us transplant recipients complain about the meds and their side effects but my heart would be no good without them • she says.”The chemists, doctors, researchers and everyone involved in their creation and growth should be commended for their work.”

With her new heart beating strong,the future looks bright for Andrea and Shaun.Andrea has become a passionate advocate of organ donation.”I urge everyone to consider registering as an organ donor to give seriously ill people a new chance at life,” she says.

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