Tell us why you needed a transplant?
I needed a heart transplant because I caught a virus, it damaged my heart, and I went into heart failure when I was 19 years old. Before getting sick, my heart was completely healthy and I was very active and conscious about my diet, sleep, and lifestyle. After being damaged by the virus, my heart was so weak that it wasn't able to pump blood to the rest of my body. I had to quit my job that I loved, drop out of school, and figure out how to live with heart failure.
I was so sick and weak that I was not able to walk by myself and I could barely sleep or eat. I had a surgery to implant a heart pump called an LVAD (Left Ventricular Assist Device) until I got my new heart. My LVAD allowed me to wait at home, but it was not a long-term solution for me because I had complications with a blood clot and infection.
What happened when you got the call? How did you feel?
My nurse, Kim called me with the news. I still remember feeling so shocked because I only waited 3.5 months and I thought for sure that it would be a much longer wait. My mind was racing and I was overwhelmed with emotions, but mostly I was terrified and so sad for my donor's family. When I woke up from the heart transplant surgery, I could feel my new heart beating so hard in my chest and throughout my entire body. It was such an extraordinary and very weird feeling. The first time I went for a walk around my neighborhood, I could tell an immediate difference. No pain in my chest! I am extremely thankful that my surgery and recovery went very smoothly with no complications.
(Naomi with her sister, Jasmine)
How has your life changed now that you have received a second chance at life?
The main way that my life has changed since receiving my new heart is that I have less anxiety. I certainly still experience moments of anxiety, but it is no longer the space I operate out of. I had a lot of academic performance-based and people-pleasing anxiety, and now, I decided that good grades and other people's judgment just don't matter as much to me any more.
A big part of working on my mental health looks like listening to myself. I am still learning to listen to my body, prioritize my health, say "no", and take care of myself first. This is really important to me because I want to take the best care of my new heart for both myself and my donor. I've also learned a lot about trust and perseverance over the past 2.5 years; for me, it looks like trusting that I will be okay, and persevering until I am.
What are you looking forward to doing that you weren't able to do before transplant?
When I had my LVAD, the things I missed the most were going swimming, camping, and hiking. This past summer, soon after my one year heart transplant anniversary, I was able to go camping with my family and some family friends, and it was the best camping trip of my life. I was able to swim in the ocean, and it was the highlight of my summer. Now, I am a Water Safety Instructor and I absolutely love my job. It is such a privilege and joy to teach kids how to swim, and I am also highly aware of how my body is healthy enough to be in the water teaching swimming lessons, and that is such a joy and privilege in itself.
What does organ donation mean to you?
Organ donation means that I get to spend time with my family and my dog, be a student, eat yummy food, hangout with my friends, enjoy nature, try new things, make new memories. It means that I get to live! When I was diagnosed with heart failure at age 19, I was scared that I'd be sick and in pain for the rest of my life, but thanks to my new heart, I'm not afraid to die in my sleep anymore, and I get to wake up each morning and experience a new day. Because of my new heart, I don't have to give up on my dream of getting married and being a mom one day. Because of my new heart, I am able to go to school and pursue my goal of working in healthcare. Because of my new heart, I get to enjoy the little moments in life, like sunshine on my face, curling up with a book, walking in the forest, laughing super hard, petting my puppy, watching a sunset, and so many more beautiful, special moments.
(Naomi with her sisters Bethany and Jasmine)
Is there a message you'd like to share with your donor family?
My life has been completely changed since my heart transplant. I feel both deeply thankful and sorrowful, because I know that while I am able to experience life, your family has experienced an irreplaceable and devastating loss. I am so sorry for your loss, and thank you, to your family and your loved one, for your selfless decision.
Because of this gift, I am able to return to doing activities that I love, be a student and continue my studies, and spend time with my family and friends. It means that I can continue to strive towards my dreams and goals. It means more to me than I can express to be able to celebrate holidays, birthdays and special moments with my loved ones.
I promise to take care of myself and your loved one's heart as best as I can. It is an honour to have a part of your loved one live on in my life. I can never thank you enough for this gift of life.
Do you have a special message for health-care staff?
I wish I could individually thank every single person that contributed to the success of my heart transplant! Thank you for your hard-work behind the scenes. I am beyond thankful to be here today and your tireless, around the clock dedication helped make that possible. I know I wouldn't be here today without the incredible team of people that took care of me, my donor, and our heart.