My heart story began many years ago. It was a spring day in 1984, seemed like any other, sun, flowers, fun ahead. It was, however, the day that changed my life forever. My mom noticed that I was intent on napping. I would take a nap only to go back to sleep for another nap. I was 18 months old so that didn't seem normal. Then she noticed my breathing seemed to be accelerated and my heart was racing. She immediately took me to see my pediatrician. He immediately put me in the hospital and started tests. The tests determined that I needed to see a pediatric cardiologist for further evaluation. After hospitalization at LeBonheur Children's Hospital and my first catherization (with many more to come) I was diagnosed with dilated cardiomyopathy. The plan was to treat me with medication, and monitor my progress, with a hopeful prognosis. The doctor hoped that I would outgrow the condition by age 7 or 8.
I grew and seemed perfectly healthy, and except for the bi-yearly visits to the doctor, I seemed like a normal little girl. However, at age 7, things began to change. The medication was working less effectively and symptoms were surfacing. My ejection fraction was dropping and my heart was enlarging. The next 4 years were a roller coaster ride. One check-up was good, the next was bad. I was very thin and not feeling well.
In August of 1994, I was 11 years old when the doctor looked at my parents and me and said, "It's time for a transplant". Something about the matter of factness of this statement caused my parents to question if we were in the right place. My Uncle, a physician in Memphis, TN, began researching and questioning his co-workers. "Where would you want your child if they were facing a heart transplant?" The answer was the same every time, UAB in Birmingham. In late August we headed down south to meet the doctors who would ultimately give my life back.
At that point the team of doctors I saw hoped that medication would control my symptoms, at least for awhile. My parents were amazed at the positive attitude of my new doctors. Although the diagnosis was the same, the attitude about the rest of my life was different - it was one of hope. It didn't take long for my condition to begin to worsen. I was coughing constantly, very thin, and I had no energy. In November I returned to UAB. They determined I was in heart failure, and they drew fluid off my lungs which made me feel much better, and the doctors decided we should go ahead and do an evaluation for a transplant and have that behind us. It was obvious that a transplant was in my near future. We went home a few days later, I had passed my evaluation with flying colors. The next 3 weeks were hard ones. It was Christmas time and my parents tried to make it as normal as possible. I was coughing and nauseous and stayed on the couch at home most of the time.
On December 29th my parents decided it was time to head back to UAB. I had lost weight and hardly had the energy to walk. It was time - we all knew it. Again, the attitude was so positive, Dr. Bourge looked at me and said, "Let’s get rid of that old heart and get one that works." At this point we met Dr. Kirklin for the first time. He told my parents that day that we needed a heart very quickly. On December 30th I was taken to have a central line put in to prepare for what was ahead. At about 8 p.m. Dr. Kirklin brought me back to my hospital room, and he said to my parents, "I've found something interesting." (My mom's exact memory of his words) She says she'll never forget the kindness and sincerity, when he said, "We have a heart." He told us the team was headed to South Carolina to get me a heart, and surgery would be around 6 a.m. the next morning, New Year's Eve. A new year, a new heart, a new life!!!
Around 6:30 a.m. I was taken to surgery, around noon on January 31st my parents waited anxiously and finally the call came. It was Dr. Kirklin, and again if my mom's memory serves her well, his exact words, "Mrs. Fowler, your daughter's new heart is working beautifully." Many hours later I woke up a new little girl. Dr. Kirklin would never be the same to me. God had allowed him to give me new life, and he literally had held my heart in his hands. He gave me a chance to live a normal life. The following year I was on the cheerleading squad at my middle school and went on to dance on the Dance Team during my high school years. I was able to go to college and after graduating college my heart brought me back to UAB. I am now working in Cardiothoracic Research. I just recently got married and couldn’t be happier! Heart transplantation gave me life. I am forever grateful to my donor family.