Late one evening in May 2021, Vanessa Trotter, 31, entered Oregon Health & Science University with a mixture of emotions.
A donor heart had been found for her, but was she ready? The Medford, Oregon woman put her doubts aside with encouragement from her partner, Michael Maxson, and courageously accepted the priceless gift. After a five-hour operation, she woke up on May 17 feeling markedly changed.
“I could tell my heart was different,” Trotter recalls. “I felt like my heart was going to beat out of my chest. I swear I could hear it with my own eyes. Boom! Boom! I wondered why it was so strong. The doctors told me that I was not used to having a working heart. To fall asleep, I ended up having to count as a distraction.
Six months after that life-changing day, Trotter is overcome with gratitude. As a young woman who has already rebuilt her life once, when she left a broken home and became a foster child, she wants to encourage others who face seemingly impossible obstacles.
“I just want people to know that there is hope and that they don’t accept your situation as fate,” she said.
Trotter, who moved to Medford in 2014, was born in Wichita, Kansas. She became a ward of the state at the age of 11 when her mother suffered from substance use disorders and her father was in jail. After staying temporarily in various foster homes and a children’s group home, Trotter and three of his younger siblings moved for three hours to a rural town in north-central Kansas.
Their new foster family was welcoming, but strict. The family was white and lived on a farm, while Trotter and his town-born siblings were often the only black students in their respective classes. Nevertheless, their new stable situation inspired them and they vowed to do better than their birth parents had done in life.
After Trotter became the first of her siblings to graduate from high school, she enrolled in a community college about an hour away. In addition to working as a student ambassador at the school, she took on other jobs to support herself: Trotter also became a certified nursing assistant and cleaned the houses.
“I had it pretty well,” Trotter explained. “My foster parents cared about me and they kept in touch after I left home. I felt like I could do this. College was a good time. I have met a lot of people, including my partner, Michael.
After earning an associate degree in science, Trotter wanted to change. She and her partner joined her mother and sister, who had recently moved across the country to Medford. In Oregon, Trotter started working for a health insurance company and worked his way up until she became a director.
Devastated and scared
But she started to feel bad in the summer of 2020, months after the coronavirus pandemic swept the world. She couldn’t walk half a block without getting out of breath. A COVID-19 test came back negative and her primary care doctor prescribed an inhaler after suspecting she had asthma, but Trotter got worse and started coughing up phlegm with blood.
In September 2020, she desperately asked for help from the Asante Rogue Regional Medical Center. After a second negative COVID-19 test result, she was diagnosed with heart failure at the age of 30. Body imaging also revealed several dangerous blood clots in his heart and lungs. The shocking news came from a cardiologist: his only option was a transplant.
“I was just devastated,” Trotter said of her diagnosis. “It didn’t make sense to me. I did not know what to do. I thought ‘I’m going to die.’ I was so scared. “
In November, Trotter took an emergency medical flight to OHSU, where she began the detailed assessment process for a potential transplant. Although the multiple medications prescribed to her helped, she continued to struggle. The OHSU Heart Failure and Transplant Program team took her under their collective wings. Trotter recalled how they told him, “We will do everything we can to get you the help you need. “
A new reality
She found herself tackling things that few 30-year-olds do, including writing a will and an advanced directive, while in intensive care. Trotter was focused on his goal of improving himself so his life could get back to normal. And then OHSU heart failure specialist Luke Masha, MD, MPH, told her something she hadn’t expected.
“Dr. Masha said: ‘You can’t work when you get out of here. You have to take time off. It’s very serious,” Trotter recalled. “I started to cry. The work had been my life; it gave me something when I had nothing else. It gave me money, a roof over my head – and it gave me health insurance. “
It was a double-edged sword. She had to pay for lifelong follow-up care after a transplant, but her condition made her job medically unsafe. Trotter was on family sick leave and was receiving short-term disability benefits through his employer, but they were about to expire. She knew others who had received federal disability benefits, but some were not doing well.
“I’ve always been like, ‘I’m never gonna be disabled, I’m going to work.’ », Remembers Trotter. “Watching someone say I can’t work anymore was moving and traumatic. But Dr Masha said he would help me get through this, fill out the required paperwork and get the support I needed.
Meanwhile, Trotter and his partner – who had also stopped working to oversee his care in Portland – were grateful for the support of their family and friends. Knowing that health insurance was necessary to undergo a transplant and that Medicare would not cover everything, she chose to purchase the expensive COBRA insurance which is available after people leave work and do not have to pay. other insurance aligned. She was able to pay for it with the help of her partner’s father.
Trotter’s health stabilized enough in December 2020 for her to return to Medford for Christmas. But in January 2021, she had headaches, fever and nausea, and she returned to OHSU. A port through which she received regular infusions had become infected. New port and more medication improved her condition, and she returned home once again in February.
Back in Medford, she rushed to receive a COVID-19 injection as soon as she was available. She knew her poor health meant she had no chance against COVID-19 without the protection of the vaccine.
In May 2021, as more people were vaccinated and the number of COVID-19 cases declined, Trotter finally felt comfortable meeting a few friends. They were socially distant and sitting outside a local vineyard when his phone rang with a call from OHSU, where a heart was suddenly waiting for him. Exuberant, she and her friends briefly hugged and quickly cut their visit short. Trotter and his partner drove overnight in Portland.
Unfortunately, the big operation did not immediately end its roller coaster ride. As sometimes happens after heart transplants, her kidneys started to fail and she had to go on dialysis for a while. She was well enough to be released from the hospital later, but had to stay in Portland for frequent follow-up tests. However, Trotter had to be hospitalized briefly again due to a bacterial infection, as immunosuppressive drugs that prevent her body from rejecting her new heart also make her more vulnerable to infections.
Finally, after repeated testing indicated that his new heart was in good working order, Trotter and his partner were able to return to Medford in mid-August. She enjoys the comforts of her own home and enjoys being able to do normal, everyday things like cook and do laundry with relative ease. And she’s grateful that she can do it all alongside her partner, whom she describes as her “cheerleader who gave it all up just to help me.”
The enormous challenges of the past year have helped Trotter, once a fiercely independent foster child, understand that it is okay to lean on others.
“We can all take help,” she said. “The world is not always there to have you. There are people who want to help you succeed.
While she would like to return to the workforce at some point, it is too early to know when or if she will be up to the task. In the meantime, she is considering her options, perhaps including volunteering or continuing her education.
“My situation helps me understand that I can do more in life and that I don’t have to stay in a certain box.”
Register to be an organ donor: https://www.donatelifenw.org/content/register-now.
About the OHSU Heart Failure and Transplant Program
Oregon Health & Science University performed Oregon’s first heart transplant in 1985. Since then, OHSU has transplanted 727 hearts and implanted 306 mechanical heart pumps, also known as ventricular assist devices. OHSU’s Heart Failure and Transplant Program offers a wide variety of services ranging from heart transplants to less invasive health and lifestyle interventions, and aims to provide heart failure patients with l ‘Oregon a high quality of life. The program’s multidisciplinary team includes six heart failure physicians, four cardiac surgeons, and many other professionals including advanced practice providers, social workers, physiotherapists, dieticians, pharmacists, transplant coordinators, and Moreover. The program is certified by the US Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services, and the health quality accreditation body DNV GL Healthcare has named the OHSU Center of Cardiac Excellence. More information is available on the OHSU Heart Failure and Transplant Website.