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Stories of hope

Thelma Warner: “I will continue to fight until my last breath”

Thelma Warner, heart transplant recipient

My name is Thelma Warner. I am a retired Business Education Teacher from North Carolina. Prior to that I was a flight attendant for a major airline. I enjoy learning, computer games and surfing the internet, research, fishing, cooking, swimming, listening to all types of music, concerts, exhibits, museums, going to the park, playing pool, going to the beach, family gatherings, and traveling. I consider myself a very out-going, adventurous and social person.

My story began in 2013. I inherited heart disease from both sides of my family. My mom passed with congestive heart failure (CHF) and there is a long history of heart failure on my father’s side. I began having symptoms of limb swelling, fatigue, and shortness of breath. At first, I didn’t notice the changes until I had trouble sleeping. I found it very uncomfortable lying flat. I had to sit up in bed to sleep comfortably.

After a doctor’s visit and an EKG, I was immediately hospitalized with a blood clot in the lower left ventricle of my heart muscle. At the time I was not aware of how serious my condition was. I spent 15 days in the hospital. Upon my release I continued my normal lifestyle and upon retrospect, found myself to be in denial. It didn’t take too long before I had a rude awakening. My health began to decline to the point that I could not walk 4 feet ahead of me without getting out of breath.

Over the next few months, doctors continued to examine me and informed me that my heart was enlarged and very weak. My ejection fracture was about 15, which meant that my heart was functioning at about 15%. I was declining further when I was evaluated for heart transplant and the doctors asked me if I would like to go into the hospital and wait for a heart. After praying and much thought, I finally accepted and my life was saved.

I entered the hospital on May 16, 2017 and received the gift of a heart transplant on July 19, 2017. Unfortunately, I had complications and later went to rehab. Finally, I was released on September 12, 2017. My doctors informed me that I would need another surgery later to replace my leaky valve from my new heart. They also informed me that I would need to go on dialysis because I had an acute kidney injury during surgery. I had to have a catheter placed in my chest until I could receive a fistula. This is how I would be able to have dialysis. I was on dialysis for a year and miraculously my kidneys came back and I was able to stop dialysis.

One year later I had to go in for my tricuspid valve surgery. At that point, I loss nearly all kidney function, could not urinate and had to be put back on dialysis. During this surgery I had severe complications and nearly lost my life. I couldn’t breathe and they had to do emergency lung surgery. After a few weeks, I recovered and was sent home, but my kidney condition continues to decline.

I am Stage 5 ERSD (end stage renal disease). After 4 years of dialysis, my kidneys are beginning to calcify. If I don’t get help soon my kidneys will calcify to the point where I will not be able to receive a transplant. Dialysis is also wearing on my new heart. I am in desperate need of a living kidney donor. A living donor kidney is recommended by my doctors because they generally last longer and start right away. A deceased donor kidney may or may not start, or may take time to wake up, so to speak. By being transplanted twice previously, my doctors think a living donor kidney is my best option.

Although this has been a long and arduous journey, I’m blessed to be alive and kicking. I don’t look like what I’ve been through. Actually, I look like a picture of health. Looks can be quite deceiving. Dialysis is my only source of survival unless I get a transplant. The upside is that it is keeping me alive, however the downside comes with many symptoms that wear my body down. Generally, after treatment I feel very weak. All I want to do is go home, crawl into my bed and rest. I am not able to be the active person I was, and dialysis limits my life and the hope of things I would like to accomplish.

With all of these challenges, I have made a conscious effort to be positive and seek a live donor. Acquiring a live donor would give me a better quality of life and fulfill the dreams I have of continually advocating for others.

I would like to share a quote I found that resonated with me:

“Hard things are put in our way not to stop us, but to call out our courage and strength.”

I have found courage and strength I never knew I possessed. I had to dig deep down within my soul to find it but, it was there. The battles that I have faced in my lifetime I would never have imagined surviving, yet I have. I’m still here and I will continue to fight until my last breath. I have the victory because I keep a positive outlook and attitude. It’s a state of mind that only I have the power to determine as to how I will respond to my disease…“The test ahead of you is never greater than the strength within you.”

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