Heart transplant

Mother and son reunite after heart transplant (finally)

A heart attack was the last thing Victoria Guajardo thought of when she started to experience chest pain. At 27, she was just too young.

Earlier that year, in 2019, her father had a heart attack. “But it wasn’t the same,” Guajardo recalls. “He was out of breath and in a lot of pain. “

While she suffered from short bouts of pain, she assumed her new, more active job was the culprit.

“I would rest and it would be gone,” she said. “Then I would resume my day. “

Then, one night, Guajardo came home from her shift, feeling a pressure so hard on her chest that she couldn’t even lie down. She asked herself, “Do I need to go to the doctor or am I just tired?”

Guajardo decided to go to a clinic in Harlingen, where she lives in the Rio Grande Valley. After a few tests, she learned that she had just had a heart attack. Shocked, she was transferred to a hospital for further testing.

“They told me that my arteries were too small and that they needed to have surgery to widen them,” Guajardo said. “But during the procedure my heart stopped twice.”

She was placed on an extracorporeal membrane oxygenation (ECMO) machine, which pumps and oxygenates a patient’s blood outside the body.

“They said there was nothing more they could do for me there,” Guajardo explained.

Instead, hospital staff recommended driving the 330 miles to Houston for more specialized care.

At the time, Guajardo was not aware of any of this. She was not conscious.

It was her parents – Hector Sr. and Martha Guajardo – in the waiting room who immediately made the decision to transport their daughter to Houston.

“My mother gave her consent, because I was not awake,” Guajardo said.

Due to a storm, Guajardo could not be airlifted and was taken for five hours by ambulance.

Guajardo didn’t wake up until she was finally at Memorial Hermann at Texas Medical Center.

“I woke up not knowing where I was or what day it was,” she recalls. “I had a tube in my throat. I couldn’t speak. I literally couldn’t lift a finger to call the nurses.

It was early September, a few weeks after she drove to the clinic.

When she emerged from the medical coma, she was hooked up to a left ventricular assist device (LVAD) – a mechanical pump that helps the heart pump blood – would be the best temporary option.

Ultimately, Guajardo would need a new heart.

Waiting for a heart

Cardiovascular surgeon Dr Ismael Salas remembers meeting Guajardo in 2019. “She was transferred to us because she was at very high risk,” said Salas, associate professor of cardiothoracic and vascular surgery, McGovern Medical School. at UTHealth Houston and Memorial Hermann. -Texas Medical Center.

He explained that heart failure occurs at any age. “And there is a long list of causes,” he said.

In Guajardo’s case, he said the LVAD was needed to improve his condition, allowing blood to flow properly through his body again.

“The idea is to move on to that, improve her health, send her home and continue to monitor her,” Salas explained.

Guajardo remained in the hospital until November. After being in a medical coma so long ago, she had to relearn even the simplest movements. Physiotherapy has become a top priority.

“I used to call myself spaghetti,” she said. “When I got up I was like a baby. I tried to sit up and collapse. I couldn’t lift my head.

Guajardo was worried. She is a single mother.

“If I can’t move, how can I take care of my child? ” she asked. “I was very afraid.”

Eventually, however, she regained her strength and was able to return to her son, Alfredo De La Cruz.

For over a year, Guajardo commuted from Harligen to Houston for monthly exams. Then, in April 2021, she was placed on the list of transplants for a new heart.

Transplant patients may only be within a three hour drive of the hospital in case an organ becomes available.

Guajardo had to move in with her brother Hector near Missouri City while she waited. Her son stayed with his parents and sisters in Harlingen, so that he could continue the school year.

“I was fortunate to have my family to help so much,” she said. “I miss my son all the time, but he’s also a very strong boy. He also understands.

Guajardo has heard stories that it could take years to pair with a heart.

Then a CT scan revealed that nodules were developing on his lungs and two blood clots on his heart.

“The doctor said it wouldn’t be safe for me to go home,” Guajardo recalls. “I had to stay in the hospital until my heart came.”

She remained in the hospital from September 13 to October 20, when, in the early hours of the morning, a nurse entered her room and announced that there was a possible heart.

“I was excited but so scared too,” Guajardo said. “They let you know in advance that something is wrong. It may not be suitable. You don’t want to tell people that because you can give them hope, and it might not happen. “

Still, she called her family and her mother drove straight to Houston.

Guajardo remembers waking up after the operation to find herself surrounded by IVs, tubes and monitors.

I will never be cured, she thought. “I felt like I was never going to come back to where I was. But fortunately, it is over.

A new start

Feeling overwhelmed after a heart transplant is typical, explained Dr Salas.

“But she was a really special case,” he said. “She always had a good spirit.”

Salas remembers visiting Guajardo in intensive care shortly after the operation.

“You have a big heart,” he told her. “Everything went well.”

Every day, Salas went to his room, he was greeted with a smile.

By mid-November, Guajardo was regaining his strength and moving more. She listened to music with her mom all day, which helped keep her attitude positive.

On November 17, Guajardo was released from the hospital.

“We always follow our patients closely,” said Salas. There is a constant fear of transplant rejection, and patients are put on special anti-injection drugs.

Guajardo is doing well, added Salas. Every time he helps a transplant patient he is in awe.

“When you take your heart out of a cooler, it’s cold,” Salas said. “Then you warm it up. When it starts to beat, it’s like a miracle in motion. We never tire. “

Before returning home, patients ring a bell in the hospital.

“It’s amazing – and it’s something that reminds us why we do what we do,” said Salas.

Guajardo spent Thanksgiving at his brother’s house. Alejandro, now 9, came with his grandparents to visit him.

She has since recovered there.

“Every day I feel better,” she said. “I was able to walk around and feel more comfortable. Everything looks good.

Alejandro returned to spend Christmas and New Years with his mother. “He was so excited to come see me,” Guajardo recalls. “He’s ready for me to come home.

She is grateful for her new heart, which arrived sooner than she expected.

“It’s a new start,” she said. “And I am very lucky to have a fresh start with a new heart.”

Lindsay Peyton is a Houston-based freelance writer.