Laura Allen is a 55 year old woman, a wife, a mother of three grown children and a grandmother to two grandchildren that are 3 and 5 years old. Laura received her heart transplant on June 1, 2011 at the University Medical Center (UMC) in Tucson, Arizona.
Will you describe what your life was like before Transplant?
I was very weak. I could not even make our bed because I could not make it around to both sides of the bed. My husband, who is a long-distance truck driver, would make the bed before he left on a trip and when he was gone I would just sleep on one side and try not really even mess up the bed and just pull the covers up on my side so it looked made up!
Please describe what waiting for the transplant was like.
It was a little bit difficult. I had developed breast cancer and one of the chemotherapy drugs damaged my heart so that is why I needed a transplant. I had a couple modes of transportation. At one time I had a scooter and then I had a walker and was on oxygen. I was so week that I could not even carry my own oxygen tank. The walker was nice; really nice. It held my oxygen and had a seat so I could sit down when I needed to.
What was life like for your family while you were waiting for a transplant?
My husband is a long-distance truck driver. When he was on a trip, our daughter who lives with us would take care of me. When he would come home off the road, and if I was in the hospital, he would normally head straight to the hospital. Before he would leave on a trip he would leave things out for me so I could around in the house. He would leave pots out on the counter and leave things where it was easier for me. If he thought I might need a can opener, he would leave a can opener out for me. Maybe leave out a couple cans of soup. Anything that would make my life easier he tried to do before he left and then when he came back it was the same routine. I got spoiled! He even did all the laundry.
Breast Cancer – what was that like and what was transplant is like after cancer?
When I had breast cancer I was told I would have to wait five years if I were to get a heart transplant. When I first went to see the doctors at UMC they realized that I was not five years out, but I did not know that I needed to be, at that time. So the doctors said I had to wait until I hit the five-year mark and then I would be considered for a heart transplant at that time. I was pretty disappointed. I knew how sick I was and I just wanted to feel better. So I and my husband said okay, that we would wait, and then we would be back. We waited and when the time came we went back and the ball got rolling and eventually I got the word that okay that this is going to happen. I started going down to Tucson for all the testing. And then it went on from there. I waited 2.5 years for the transplant. That would be a total 7.5 years of waiting between waiting for the five years after the cancer treatment and then 2.5 years waiting for the transplant.
How long after receiving treatment for your breast cancer before you were told you had developed cardiomyopothy?
Not long after. I did not even know that I was sick. I had gone to visit my sister, who lived in an upstairs apartment, and I was having a difficult time climbing the stairs. I was breathing hard and panting. My sister asked me if I was really having that much difficulty getting up the stairs and I said, “yes.” And she asked me if was okay and I thought that I was okay. Then I went to visit my other sister who lives in Atlanta and as I went through the airport it seemed to me that people were whizzing by me and I was in slow motion and having a hard time moving. Finally, I got to Atlanta but I could not sleep. I could not lay back and breathe well. I told my sister something was wrong with me. I did not know what it was but knew something was wrong. I made the best of that visit and went to my doctor as soon as I got back. They found I had cardiomyopothy and congestive heart failure due to adriamicine.
What is like being on the waiting list?
I just did not know how long it would take. Some people get their transplant real quick, some people have to wait awhile. I wondered how long it was going to take for me. And then one day I just realized it was going to happen when it happens. And I know it’s going to happen because enough people told me it was going to happen. So, just wait. So that’s what I did.
What was it like when you got “The Call?”
Oh my goodness, when I got “the call” I did not; you just don’t think it is real. When the phone rang I was actually getting ready for bed. Actually, I was down on my knees saying my prayers when I realized it was a 520 number. I was thinking it was my friend in Tucson letting me know that her granddaughter had had her baby. So when I was finally up and able to get the phone it was Isabel and she said, “well, Laura, are you ready to come down to Tucson.” And I said, “are you serious” and she goes “that’s the first thing they usually say.” So then I said, “oh my God!” and she said “that is usually the second thing.” I said, “is this for real?” She answered, “yes this is for real. Come on down. Take your time – do not be in a real big hurry – be safe getting here.” I was kind of in a daze. I kind of walked around in a circle; I did not know what to say or what to do. I went and got my daughter and I said, “we got to get to Tucson.” And of course, she does not do freeway driving so I drove myself down to Tucson for my heart transplant!
How did you contact your husband or how did he find out?
I was driving to Tucson and our daughter got on the cell phone to call my husband because I could not talk to him because I was driving and I did not want to be distracted because I had “business” – “big business.” He was in Texas at the time so he was not actually there for the transplant but made in to the hospital within a couple days.
So how were you doing when he finally arrived at the hospital and saw you for the first time with your new heart?
He was amazed. He was just amazed to see me there after this transplant and talking to him. I had all these IV’s and drains but he was really happy to see me and be able to talk to me.
How has your life changed after transplant?
I can walk and talk at the same. Before I used to say to people, “don’t talk to me I can’t talk to you why I’m walking. We are going to do one or the other; walk or talk. We can sit down and talk or we can just walk.” Walking was a little bit difficult, distance wise. Not so much walking itself, just covering distance. I just did not go places. Mainly I just stayed around the house because I did not have the energy to do a whole lot. The phone would ring and I would not even be in a hurry to get it. I figured if they were calling and needed me that would call back. It was really a chore to just get to the phone.
Do you have any limitations since receiving your transplant?
I am not limited in anything. I think my family wants me limited because they want me take it easy. But I am just ready to do some things. Some charity is going to get a bunch of things from me. Things that I have collected over the years when I could not do anything.
What impact has your regained health had on your family?
Although they do not want me to do too much, they are loving it because you know, I cook a little more and they like that! My daughter that lives with us will occasionally leave her laundry in the dryer and I will fold it for her. My other daughter that does not live at home says it must be nice to have someone do your laundry!
How old are your grandchildren and do they know and understand what it means for you to have had a transplant?
Marty is 5 and Cash is 3 and yes they understand. They came to visit me when I was still in Tucson, after my transplant, so they were familiar with the mask and gloves. In fact they thought the mask and the gloves were the coolest things. And they were very cautious when I first got home. So, yes, they are aware of what has happened to me and when they see my surgery scar they ask, “Grandma is that where you got your new heart and I always answer yes, sure is.”
Have you placed any restrictions on yourself in regard to immunosuppression that you do now that you did not do before?
No I am just trial and error. If I can do it, I am doing it. Sometimes I say to myself, I probably shouldn’t be doing this but I’m just going to go ahead and see if I can get it done.
In regard to illness, I am always wondering, when I am next to someone, I am wondering if they got their flu shot yet, and which flu shot did they get. I pretty much try to keep my distance from people other than who I am seeing.
Have you done any traveling since your transplant?
We drove across country to Iowa. My daughter and my son and I and I did all the driving – basically. And we had a great time.
Have you had any contact with your donor family?
No I have not had any contact with the donor family. I would love to send them a message. They are always welcome to send me a message.
Would you like to share anything we have not asked you or something you would like to share with the community at large?
I would just like to say that I have always been a woman of faith and I always knew this transplant would happen because I kept telling people, “when” I get my heart – I just knew it would happen. It was always “when” it happens, “when” it happens, “when” it happens. I just feel the focus is on me but it is more about the power of God and the donor family giving me a second chance life and a better quality of life.
Were you involved with support services before transplant?
Yes. Someone had told me about the New life Society (NLS) and I kept saying I was going to go, I was going to go, but I just kept lying on the couch. One day I got up, looked at the newsletter from NLS that somehow kept finding its way in the mail to my house, and finally said I am going to go to one of those meetings. One day I just got up and went. I went to the meeting at Grunow and it was the best thing I could have ever done. The people were all so nice. Everybody just welcomed me. I did not feel like I was alone even though I came by myself. I just did not feel alone. I went home and told my husband about it and told him he had to go to one these meeting with me and meet these people. They are so encouraging and it is like one big family. And he said he was going to go when his schedule permitted it. He was able to make one of the meetings and then he went to one of the Coco’s dinner and he loved it.
Did the meetings provide anything that was helpful to your husband?
Oh yes. There were people there that would tell him certain things about what to expect and things he could do. He was very grateful for the information.