A new lease on life

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By Jay Cason

Almost three months after receiving a heart transplant that saved her life, Carla Sparrow is well on her way to a full recovery.

Sparrow, whose ordeal was chronicled in the May 28 and June 4 editions of The Anderson News, received her new heart May 28. While complications arose after the surgery, she pushed through.

"My kidneys shut down for four of five days, and I had to be on dialysis before they started working," Sparrow said. "Now I feel great. I can run around with Blake now. It's awesome."

Sparrow learned she had serious heart problems while pregnant with her son, Michael "Blake" Wright, now 2 years old.

According to information provided by a "Medical News Today" newsletter, Sparrow's obstetrician noticed that her heart made an unusual sound during a routine checkup early in her pregnancy. Further diagnosis revealed a "leaky heart valve and another that was too tight, most likely caused by a childhood bout of rheumatic fever."

Sparrow continued to check with her doctors about her heart condition and was eventually admitted to the University of Kentucky Chandler Hospital as a precaution. The night she entered the hospital, while trying to lie flat so that an ultrasound could be performed to check the baby, fluid formed on Sparrow's lungs resulting in a crisis that caused physicians to perform an emergency cesarean section to deliver the infant.

The infant, Blake, who weighed just 3 pounds, was immediately taken to the neonatal intensive care unit at Kentucky Children's Hospital. While now the picture of health, Blake remained in the hospital for the first few weeks of his life.

Some weeks after delivering her son, Sparrow underwent open-heart surgery to replace the troublesome heart valves. She improved for a while, but ultimately became so ill that she had to be hospitalized once again. It was then that she and her doctors decided a heart transplant was her only hope.

While most heart transplant patients just have to wait about two weeks for a donor to be found, Sparrow waited more than four weeks before a match was located. The last three weeks of waiting were especially difficult, as she had to remain absolutely flat on her back in a hospital bed.

But since the transplant, Sparrow is on her way back to living a normal life.

"I can go out to eat now and I couldn't before," she said. "I don't have the shortness of breath I used to have, but I am weak because I was in the hospital so long.

"I feel better than I've felt for three years. The doctors said eventually I can live as normally as everybody else. I was lucky to have such good doctors and nurses."

As reported in the newsletter, Sparrow's doctors and nurses said they were the lucky ones, as, from the onset of her ordeal, Sparrow showed such "heart."

"Her condition worsened (before the transplant), but the one thing she never lost was her incredible hope and graciousness," said heart transplant surgeon Dr. Mark Bonnell. "I walked out of her room with a lump in my throat for three weeks.

"Her never-ending kindness, humility and grace through it all endeared her to us all. She did not lose hope and never complained. She brought happiness to all who met her. When she left, I had a lump in my throat again, but for a very different reason. Pure joy."

Dr. Alison Bailey, director of the hospital's cardiovascular rehabilitation center, agreed.

"Everyone who meets her just falls in love with her because she is delightful, hopeful and very upbeat," Bailey said. "I will echo Dr. Bonnell's remarks regarding having a lump in my throat on many occasions with Carla, but the last one, watching her leave the hospital, was definitely the best."