Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Beating the Odds

Bear with me. This post is only depressing in the beginning...

There are statistics that say I won’t live long. Even if one allows for me beating the average, since I am far younger than most heart transplant recipients, my prognosis is far inferior to that of most people I know. As far as odds are concerned, my life span is expected to be relatively short. The longest a patient has lived with a transplanted heart is 31 years. If one assumes that I will match that best-case scenario world record, I will live until I am 60. My parents are both older than 60, and they’re just getting started.

As of last year, 77% of women that received heart transplants in this country lived to see their one-year transplant anniversary, and 67% of women survived for five years post-transplant. So I will most likely make it to at least 35. Sweet.

These are some of the thoughts that whirl around in my head. They often evolve into paranoia about my long-term life plans not coming to fruition. When I was younger, I always imagined I would marry in my late twenties, have kids in my early thirties and live the rest of my life with my happy family, grandkids entering the picture sometime down the line. In reality, I am single with no prospects at the moment. And who will want to sign up to get involved with this girl with such a questionable future?

The answer: no one. Not as long as I have these dark thoughts looming in the back of my mind. However, if I can get control of my neuroses and set out to beat the odds, I can. I have already beaten many odds in my life, and I intend to outlive the longest-living heart transplant recipient by a long-shot.

What odds have I beaten to date? I was wait-listed at the University of Richmond but ended up attending. I graduated cum laude. I was wait-listed at Darden Business School. Again, I performed well and graduated with my ideal job. In October of last year when I was being rushed to the CCU, I repeatedly declared that I was going to die. I later learned the nurse told my mom that most patients who make that proclamation actually do die. Well, I lived. I was hospitalized for a month and eventually came home with a 15% ejection fraction. Most people don’t do much more than get out of bed with that level of heart function. I returned to work.

I will defeat the four things that cause most deaths in cardiac transplant patients:

1. Acute rejection. The risk of this is greatly diminished after the first three to six months post-transplant. I am now at twelve weeks and remain vigilant. So far, I have had very limited rejection – none recently.
2. Infections. I have adopted strict standards of cleanliness, adhere 100% to my prescribed medications to combat infections and carefully monitor myself for symptoms.
3. Coronary artery disease. This is mainly caused by cholesterol, and I am more susceptible than non transplant recipients. I have already altered my eating habits significantly and intend to remain disciplined about the fat and cholesterol I consume…though yes, you better believe I will enjoy a piece of pizza every once in a while!
4. Cancer. Because my immune system is repressed, I am at a much higher risk for cancer than I was pre-transplant, mostly skin cancers and lymphoma. Therefore, I will wear sunscreen, avoid the sun (and become more translucent than anyone thought possible!) and religiously see a dermatologist once a year, in addition to my thorough transplant team.

There is always a first. Maybe I will be the first to live for fifty years post-transplant. The first step is believing it is possible. The below quotes help me get into the right mindset for positive thinking and inspired living. Maybe they will be helpful in whatever you are trying to accomplish, whatever odds you are striving to beat.

“Adversity causes some men to break, others to break records.”
- William A. Ward

“There are no constraints on the human mind, no walls around the human spirit, no barriers to our progress except those we ourselves erect.”
- Ronald Reagan

“According to the laws of aerodynamics, the bumblebee can’t fly either, but the bumblebee doesn’t know anything about the laws of aerodynamics, so it goes ahead and flies anyway.”
- Igor Sikorsky


  1. Andrea,

    Your thoughts and synopsis of life is VERY normal. Believe, it is VERY normal.

    After crunching all the numbers for a number of months after my transplant, I set one long term goal. I want to be able to dance with my grand daughter at her wedding. (Note, she'll be THREE in December)

    Otherwise I am thankful for each and every day. Even the dreary, cold rainy days or the occasional "dark" days that I might have.

    I live each day fully and have vowed to NOT waste time. For me, it's important to be productive.

    Life is good ..... we beat the odds too many times, we are here for a reason.

    Many hugs, DAP

  2. Sometimes I don't have any intelligent words so I'll just put it in Facebook-speak: Like.

  3. I don't know if it helps to know that you give me such perspective... but you do. You are here for a reason, and you will continue to beat the odds. Thank you for your perseverance!!!

  4. I also heard a quote just this morning that said "thank God we are not limited to our own imaginations".
    things you can't even imagine are possible........YOU ARE the bumble bee.
    I hope I live to see you fly past 60

  5. After reading your post, I'm going to get away from this computer,empty the dishwasher, vacuum the house and get outdoors to enjoy the rest of the day. I hope you have a good one too.

  6. Oh, and by the way, I'm going to wear my bumblebee hat; it has new meaning.

  7. Dear Andrea,
    Your post this morning . . .how did you know it was just what I needed to hear? We are facing a great challenge right now (not nearly the exent of a heart transplant, but significant for us nonetheless) and I am feeling rather defeated and helpless this morning.
    Your thoughts brought me to tears, and has given me a new sense of "just get in there and find a solution, and stop getting stuck in the muck". Thank you for the precious part of yourself that you so willingly share!

  8. Andrea,

    It's like you read my mind...I was just thinking this morning about the odds and how I routinely completely ignore them. Am I sticking my head in the sand? Maybe, but I can't live with the fear hanging over my head.

    We just have to push forward, assuming we'll get better and stay better. Who knows what treatments they'll come up with. We'll think back to 2010 as "the olden days" of heart stuff. : )

    Great post chica!