Written by Shirleyanne J
Psalm 140:1-2 “Praise the Lord! Praise the Lord, O my soul. I will praise the Lord all of my life. I will sing praise to my God as long as I live.”
My God Support Journey began on June 20, 2016, when I survived a massive heart attack. At 3:00 am, I was awakened by what felt like an extremely painful cramp between my shoulder blades. Me bolting upright in bed awoke my husband, DJ.
“Are you ok?” he asked. “I’m not sure, I have a horrible cramp between my shoulders again.”
Yes, again. This was the third time in 3 days I had experienced discomfort between my shoulders. Having done yard work over the weekend and no longer being a Spring Chicken, I figured it was just a muscle cramp. Boy was I wrong!
Soon I began to drench sweat and pray. “Lord, how serious is this?” His answer, “Serious, get to the hospital NOW.”
DJ drove me to St. Francis South ER where I was admitted immediately. This particular heart attack is considered a “Widow Maker” due to the intensity, 100% artery blockage and a low national survival rate.
By the grace of God, there were two EMT’s and an ambulance on-site at St. Francis South, they immediately transported me to St. Francis Heart Hospital. Upon my arrival at St. Francis Heart Hospital, I was rushed to the Cath Lab and a stent was implanted in my heart. Problem solved
… so we thought.
From June to October, I was hospitalized several times. I received medications, a pacemaker/defibrillator, and the Heart Team attempted Catheter Ablation in my heart, four times with no success due to 16 scars discovered in my heart.
My condition was quickly deteriorating. However, my faith was on fire! I felt God with me as I endured difficult procedures and had to make life decisions. I knew deep in my soul the outcome of this life-changing event was in God’s Hands. I leaned further into God Support.
Little did I know I was about to become part of a miracle and a living testimony to God’s will, love, grace, and compassion. Proverbs 3:5-6 “Trust in the Lord with all of your heart and lean not on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge Him, and He will make your paths straight.”
Hospitalized again, this time due to my heart failure despite the medications and pacemaker/defibrillator, there was no improvement. On October 12, 2016, Dr. Karpman, St. Francis Heart Specialist, explained to me that there was nothing left in his “toolbox” to possibly save my life.
He made a personal call to Dr. Doug in Oklahoma City requesting that I be transported and admitted to Integris Baptist Heart Hospital in Oklahoma City and put in Dr. Doug’s care. I was told Dr. Doug had a bigger “toolbox.” Dr. Doug was able to grant this request. This was truly a blessing in itself.
Arrangements for transporting me to Oklahoma City were made. I was transported by ambulance that evening, arriving “hot” (code for dying) directly to Critical ICU. DJ stayed behind to put things in order at home, he would arrive in Oklahoma City the next morning. My Daddy was waiting for me in Integris CICU at 9:30 p.m. that night.
The Doctors skipped the Emergency Room and took me directly to CICU where they performed triage, right there in the CICU room, to stabilize me. A 3-port catheter was inserted into the right side of my neck and threaded into my heart. Daddy was being strong, yet I could see that he was broken-hearted watching what had to be done to save his daughter’s life, my life.
By now I was leaning on God Support with all of my soul. Death was hovering over and around me. I was in a different city, had a new cardiac team, and had no idea how close to death I was. Less than 15 hours later I coded, yes died, two times in a row. DJ witnessed these two events and felt helpless. Once I was stable again, I was taken down to Cath Lab to be put on life support.
God was ever present as we faced each challenge. I coded a few more times. My family was not present much for agreed reasons. CICU is very small and having people there during coding created more chaos than necessary.
Between the excellent nurses and God granting me peace, we began to recognize the early signs of oncoming V-tach episodes. The process of stopping codes before they happened was repeated often during each day. I was not physically aware of the onset of these attacks, the staff would see an attack coming on the monitor.
“Shirleyanne, DEEP breaths, smell the flowers … blow out the candles. Now, PUSH like you are in labor.” Another crisis averted. It was exhausting.
The Heart Transplant Team determined that I required a heart transplant to survive. Now THAT was a curveball not expected. Qualification for being listed on the Transplant Registry began. I was put on the transplant list on October 22, 2016. Yet another blessing, just to qualify for the list.
A round of hurry up and wait began. Faith in God includes faith in His timing. I was tethered to the bed by the balloon pump, unable to move my right leg or sit up for 3 weeks. The mechanical sound of the balloon pump sounded like a freight train headed straight for me. My Mom graced me with Healing Touch. One of the results of Healing Touch was the sound of the pump changed to the gentle tick-tock of the Grandfather clock in my parents’ home.
God and I spent a lot of time together, especially at night when I felt the most vulnerable. Fear was not a factor. God simply did not allow fear to engulf me. If I heard the train, I would immediately pray and God would restore the comforting tick-tock.
My little CICU room, the Genie Bottle, became a safe haven not only for me but also for family and staff. Named so by me because there was great power in that room and a little bitty living space. Daily I shared the Word. We all did a lot of praying for each other in the Genie Bottle.
Worry ends when faith in God begins. I became a devout Christian Follower during this time, no longer just a believer. Visitation was limited to help prevent any infection or complications. My attention and focus was on God Support with each breath I took. The outcome of all of this was ultimately in God’s hands, of that I was certain.
Sunday, November 6, 2016, at 9:38 am, the big miracle began. I was offered a heart. God, the doctor and I were the only ones in attendance. It is a lot to process when you make a life decision such as accepting a heart to replace the one God gave you. I accepted the offer.
A second round of blood typing, 240 cc’s to be exact, tissue/heart size matching and lab tests began to ensure that I was infection-free and further testing of the donor heart to ensure a positive and successful match.
Three hours passed before I told anyone that a heart was available. I was determined not to put family and friends through a possible disappointment if the heart was not a perfect match. My husband, father, mother, and friends had been through enough. We still had a long journey ahead of us.
When I got the green light that prayers had been answered, the heart was a great match, I called DJ to share the miraculous news. Part of the miracle was that I would be receiving a heart after only 2 weeks on the transplant list. The miracle is that every day only six hearts are available to over 50,000 people waiting for one. I was deeply humbled by God’s grace and the gift of life that a young man, who I will not meet in person, had given to me.
The transplant was scheduled for November 7th. Originally the start time was 3:00 a.m. The time was changed to midnight due to the donor heart’s time of arrival at the hospital. Into surgery, God and I went with the Transplant Team. The Transplant Team expected a typical 10 to 12 hour surgery. I had asked family to wait to come to the hospital until closer to the time I would be out of surgery so they could get some much-needed rest.
God’s plan was bigger. My heart transplant took a mere 4 hours! The surgery was textbook from start to finish. By the time my family arrived, I was already in recovery. Believe me, it is no fun trying to wake up with your arms restrained and a breathing tube down your throat. Yuck! Again, God comforted me. My cousin, Dana, stayed by my side and was an Angel of the moment as I worked toward being able to focus and communicate.
Once I fully woke up and was freed from the restraints and breathing tube, I was able to embrace that I had a strong pulse and heartbeat for the first time in 5 months. God Support had resulted in a miracle, a true second chance at life. Many things were going to change going forward.
I wrote several letters to my donor family. I sent them a custom Afghan that I had designed then crocheted. I received third party confirmation that they received the items that I had sent. However, they chose not to respond.
At the end of 2018, I had put together several of my writings to send to my donor family when I had an epiphany. Both the Family and I NEEDED closure.
They need to heal and move forward the best that they can. If they ever want to reach out to me I will welcome them.
A part of me feels it may be more hurtful than helpful keeping them updated on my life. At the end of the day their loved one is gone. I cannot repair that grief.
I am forever grateful for the heart that I received. I too need to move forward from being defined as a “Heart Transplant.” I prefer to be a productive contributor to my family and community without a label.
My calling is to continue forward with my Therapy Dog ministry: Project Ely – Spreading Love One Paw at a Time. My dog, Sarah Belle, is named after my extra special nurse, Sarah Smith. Together Sarah Belle and I are positively impacting lives.
We are in a new season of life going into year 4 of my big miracle. Sarah and I continue to publicly and privately advocate blood, tissue, and organ donation among other outreaches. We go where we can affect change.
Sarah Belle and I now serve needs from hospice and schools to the Welcome Waggin’ at Tulsa International Airport.
We volunteer 8-10 hours per week, my health permitting. The adjustments over the past 3 years have been challenging. Only now do I seem to be in a “sweet spot” of meds/side effects/limitations and abilities.
God Support continues in my life. I thank God daily for giving me continued life. I have made necessary life changes, no smoking, no alcohol, and as little stress as possible.
I have given control of my life to God, no longer do I have the illusion that I am in control. Above all, I minister to others and share my testimony, usually with one of my Hands On Therapy Dogs by my side to share God’s love and His Word.
Ephesians 2:8 “For it is by Grace you have been saved through faith and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God.”
Thank you, Father, Son, and Holy Ghost, for saving and loving me! Thank you to my Transplant Team and Family. A very special Thank you to my Donor and Donor family for the gift of life!
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