CLARION, PA (EYT) – It’s been a rollercoaster of emotions over the past six years for Clarion native Alexandria Sharrar, who was welcomed home with lights and sirens last week after receiving a heart transplant at the clinic in Cleveland on March 24.
(PHOTOS/VIDEO: Captured by Jacob Deemer/EYT.)
Alexandria, 26, needed a heart transplant after an abnormally high heart rate, which was detected in high school. She was eventually diagnosed with Danon’s disease, a rare genetic disorder characterized by weakening of the heart muscle (cardiomyopathy) and weakening of the muscles used for movement (skeletal muscle myopathy).
Alexandria’s father, Scott, remembers every day how lucky they are that this school nurse made a sighting that day six years ago.
“The high school nurse called to tell us that her heartbeat was very fast,” said Scott Sharrar, who is also a zoning officer for Clarion Borough. “It was running at around 180 beats per minute. So, we took her to the ER, and they said she had something wrong with her heart, but Clarion was not the place to deal with it.
After an hour-long examination of Alexandria at Clarion Hospital, an intern suspected she might be suffering from Wolff-Parkinson-White syndrome, a disorder in which an extra electrical pathway in the heart causes a rapid heartbeat. The Sharrars were referred to the Cleveland Clinic, a world leader in transplant medicine.
Two days later, Alexandria underwent cardiac ablation, a procedure that scars tissue in the heart to block irregular electrical signals. Doctors also installed a defibrillator and pacemaker to help her heart, which may have saved her life.
“(The doctors) told us when they put the defibrillator on her, within two weeks she would probably be dead if we hadn’t taken her to the hospital,” Sharrar said.
Multiple surgeries followed in the coming months when doctors Kenneth Zahka and Peter Aziz of the Cleveland Clinic finally diagnosed Alexandria with Danon’s disease.
“Dr. Aziz said her heart condition will only get worse. It will never get better and in five years she will need a heart transplant,” Scott said. “About two years ago, her heart stabilized at approximately 49% of its working capacity. So that’s when they said we had to seriously consider putting him on the transplant list.
After months of extensive testing to ensure compatibility with a donor, Alexandria was officially placed on the transplant list in October 2021.
Then, on March 23, nearly six years after the day of Alexandria’s diagnosis, the Sharrars received a phone call indicating that a possible match had been found. But, it still wasn’t going to be easy.
As the Sharrars rushed towards Cleveland, Mother Nature stepped in with tornado warnings and heavy rain, which made it nearly impossible for the potential heart to be stolen. The operation was postponed until the following morning.
Almost a month later, Scott still can’t handle the highs and lows of those days.
“It’s been four weeks, and I still haven’t figured this out,” he said. “It’s hard to explain because you’re glad it’s happening. Now that she’s going to have a good heart, she’s going to be able to lead a normal, healthy life. But, at the same time, there are so many things that could go wrong, and she couldn’t get off the operating table. It was hard. I think I’ve prayed more in the last four weeks than in my life.
Eventually the heart arrived and, to everyone’s relief, Alexandria was in and out of the operating room as a routine checkup.
“The doctor came out and told us this was the fastest heart transplant the Cleveland Clinic has ever done,” Scott said. “They were literally finished in three and a half hours. The typical surgery takes six to eight hours. Everything worked perfectly.
Even after six long years and countless doctors, the Sharrars still hold this school nurse close to their hearts.
“Ms. (Tedra) Craig in high school is our guardian angel. That’s for sure,” Scott said. “We thank her as many times as we can.”
Within two days of the transplant, Alexandria was sitting up and four days later she was standing and walking. She stayed at the clinic for two weeks before moving to the Transplant House of Cleveland, a nearby complex that provides affordable, temporary housing and a supportive community for organ transplant patients and their families.
Much like the procedure itself, Alexandria’s recovery continued and she was given the all-clear to return home on Thursday, April 21.
Scott’s fellow firefighters made sure Alexandria came home to the warmest (and loudest) welcome. Three fire trucks from Clarion Fire & Hose Company No. 1 escorted Alexandria and Scott to their home where friends and family were waiting.
Even at this point, Alexandria has no words to describe the situation.
“I don’t even know how to describe it. Relieved to have made it,” she said. “I still can’t process. I still can’t believe I had a transplant.
Alexandria was not only thrilled to be reunited with her friends, family, sister Sophia and mother Anita, but also her three cats.
Yes, it can be extremely difficult for the Sharrars to put their feelings into words right now, but one feeling stands out without words – gratitude.
“Everyone has been so worried, and the community has been there for us,” Scott noted. “Like my fellow firefighters, my family, my office staff. It was a relief for all of us that she was okay. She is still young, so I hope she will have a good and happy life now.
“I see the improvement every day. She can walk and move around easily. She’s not out of breath, she’s not tired. It’s a good thing. Now we are happier.
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