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Donna Hart: Gift Of 8 Campaign

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I never thought I would have heart disease. I ate well and exercised on a regular basis. In July 2014 I went with my cousin and her friends on a five day backcountry kayak trip around the Broken Islands National park. August 2014 I rode my bike from Brighton to Cornwall (355km) for my vacation. My husband and I also went to a backcountry lodge in Jasper National park. Later we went to Lake Louise; we rode our bikes from the Bow River up to Lake Louise. We felt unstoppable. I cycled with the Oakville Cycling Club and swam with the Milton Masters. In-between I enjoyed hiking the Bruce trail, mostly not putting on my boots for anything less than 20km. People often ask me if I had symptoms leading up to my diagnosis. I had a heart rate monitor on my phone. At times I would take my heart rate and the app would say my heart rate was 143 bpm. I would think the app was broken and uninstall the app. In the spring I was able to smoke my husband on the bike. By August sometimes I could not keep pace with him, in September I was very tired and I purchased some iron pills. I took them for a few days, I felt better and left it at that. October, November I was feeling pressure between my shoulder blades, I went to the doctor and he gave me medication for acid reflux. No one was looking at me and thinking heart disease, least of all myself. Several times I woke up out of breath. I thought to myself this is ridiculous and willed myself to get my breath under control. On one occasion I wore a skirt to work and thought OMG I have cankles!. By December I was out of breath doing simple tasks. I could not walk to the office from my car or a flight of without being out of breath. I was very embarrassed by this and thought I should be in better shape. December 11th 2014 I had an annual physical, I thought I needed a puffer. I was fortunate enough at that time that my heart skipped a beat while the nurse was listening to my heart. She sent me for and EKG. I had the EKG and the tech said to me this is going straight to the cardiologist. The next morning I had a call from a cardiologist asking me to call him. I got in touch with the cardiologist he prescribed me a bunch of medications and arranged to see him on December 15th. He said I had had a heart attack. The next day, December 13th I knew that I was too sick and would not be able to attend the doctor’s appointment on the 15th on my own. December 14th I woke up with cardiac symptoms.

My second day at Peter Munk Cardiac intensive care. I was told I needed a heart transplant. My heart was now functioning at 13%. My heart was too damaged for a LVAD. A portable mechanical heart was not an option. I had a heart biopsy and was diagnosed with Giant Cell Myocarditis. The life span of someone with giant cell from diagnosis is five months. I was assessed to see if I would be a good candidate for a heart transplant and in February 2015 I was listed for a new heart, given a defibrillator and sent home. In March 2015 I was given an at home device to monitor my vitals. After having this machine at home for a week I was called back to Peter Munk, and back to cardiac intensive care. This time I was told that I would not be leaving the hospital until I got a new heart. I had the VT’s for a week. I was told that if my kidneys continued to fail they would put me on a mechanical heart and I would wait in the ICU. If my other organs failed I would be moved to palliative care. Monday May 11th 2015 Dr. Mo came in and told me my heart was in. A heart transplant is a treatment for heart disease but not a cure. My life took a turn that I could never of expected. I am continually grateful for those who have chosen to study cardiology and the advances their research has made in improving lives. I am grateful to my donor family who in a time of insurmountable grief, made a decision that saved my life.

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