A Second Chance: Aimee’s Story

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I inherited a genetic form of cardiomyopathy and never expected to live to see my 50th birthday. The disease left my heart a thickened mass, failing more every day. I tried different medications and had a pacer/ICD inserted yet still my heart was failing. I was running out of options. As a 47-year-old cardiovascular nurse at United Hospital, I was advised that a transplant was my last resort.

However, as my heart weakened, so did my resistance to a transplant—and the average wait for a heart is two years. Fate must have been on my side, though, because the gift of a heart came within eight months.

The day finally arrived just before Thanksgiving 2005. The surgery went well and so did the first few hours afterward, but by Thanksgiving Day, everything started to go terribly wrong. My blood pressure dropped, my cardiac output was poor, and I was headed for cardiac arrest. I did arrest, and as they lifted me to the operating room table, I had no heartbeat and no blood pressure.

The surgeon opened my chest quickly and started squeezing, buying time for the heart-lung machine to be readied. During the next week, I returned to surgery three more times with complications. I endured a fever of more than 104 degrees, blood clots, and a heart so swollen that—with the pumps attached left and right—my chest could not be closed. I was later told I looked like ET!

My progress slowly started to improve and I was weaned from the pumps. Amazingly, my (very ill) new heart began to carry some of the load. I had survived the impossible. The worst was over, although the journey back was just beginning. I had lost muscle tone and needed to learn to walk again. Because of being intubated and spending weeks on a ventilator, I had to relearn to talk, chew, and even swallow.

Prior to my transplant, I could walk only 200 feet before I had chest pain and was out of breath. Today I can do a 15-minute mile on the treadmill, do two miles on the exercise bike, and generally work out for a full hour.

I am a survivor. I was given a second chance. I embrace life. I returned to work in August 2006 and celebrated my 50th birthday in September of that year. Now I am supporting the important work of the American Heart Association by serving as a Heart Walk Team Captain at Phillips Eye Institute.

Aimee Gille, RN
Phillips Eye Institute
Allina Hospitals and Clinics

Fit-Friendly Company Recognition

The American Heart Association will recognize employers who champion the health of their employees with a “Start! Fit-Friendly Company Award” — a certification companies can use in their recruitment processes. Application deadline is June 30, 2007. For more information on the criteria and to get an application, contact Ashley Nelson at 952-278-7922.

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