Susan Armstrong shares the story of a precious locket, gifted to her from husband Jack nearly two years ago. It is engraved with an unforgettable timestamp, 10:27 a.m. June 7, 2016, the day their lives changed. The day Susan received a life-altering gift: a donor heart.
“This locket is the most important thing I have to remind me of my special day,” Susan shared. “With the transplant, I am now back to myself. It’s a double wonderful feeling.”
I have heard many references in my lifetime but never the expression “double wonderful.” Susan and I laugh when I repeat it to her to confirm her description of how she feels two years after the transplant. I am convinced it means more than ‘wonderful, wonderful.’ To Susan, it means she is blessed, blessed and she feels good, good.
“I had been sick for so long,” she reflected. Even before she was diagnosed in 2002 with congestive heart failure after visiting St. Vincent Carmel Emergency Department for what she initially thought was pneumonia, Susan spent almost a year not feeling her best.
In fact, before her heart transplant, she had a left ventricular assist device (LVAD), which is a pump that is surgically implanted for patients who have reached advanced-stage heart failure. An LVAD is battery-operated and helps the left ventricle (main pumping chamber of the heart) pump blood to the rest of the body.
“It’s funny because I had just given a speech to new hires at St. Vincent Heart Center about my experience as part of a guest advisory panel, which I serve as a volunteer. My cell phone rang, I answered, and the woman said ‘we have a heart for you.’ ”
Susan had her LVAD for more than a year before receiving the call that would forever change her life.
Today at 64, nearly two years since her heart transplant, Susan is finding meaningful ways to keep busy. She spends her days volunteering and swimming. “I now can swim, I can take baths . . . I don’t have the luggage of the LVAD,” she said.
Fearful of pools and submerging my head under water, I share my secret with her, that I am afraid to swim in pools because of the chlorine and that I am not a good swimmer. “When you’re ready, you can join me in the pool,” said Susan, grateful to be back in the water, enjoying life and traveling with Jack.
Susan is the 424th heart transplant patient at St. Vincent Heart Center. She credits the entire staff, team of surgeons, cardiologists and more for her recovery and new life experiences.
“I knew I was in the best hands. I wasn’t nervous about anything prior to the surgery. I am a big fan of St. Vincent!”