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I am blessed as a Survivor and now Thriver!

When I turned 50 years old, had 2 daughters finished with college, worked at the same company for 25 years and had just qualified as a member of 1 of 17 teams in the US for USTA NATIONALS tennis championships at my skill level of 3.5. A short 3 week period later and all of a sudden I had no exercise tolerance, I almost passed out on the tennis court. My primary care doctor was one of my teammates, so he saw it happen. He had me in his office at 8 am the next morning for an exam.

My lungs were fine, so he X-rayed my heart, not common practice. He saw enlargement, so the next day had my 1st echocardiogram at the local hospital. They saw all kinds of issues, one ventricle was so enlarged that my heart was rocking as it was beating, a dangerous situation. Thus began a 13-month journey with a  cardiologist. He could not keep my out of atrial fibrillation (AFIB). So put me on drugs, did an angiogram which caused me to go down to 20 beats /minute, causing me to pass out during the procedure. I woke up in the ICU with wires out of my chest that were attached to a pacemaker hanging from a pole next to my bed. It was telling my heart chambers when to fire (beat). I had developed during the angiogram 3rd-degree heart block, so no electrical conduction chamber to chamber. It was surgically implanted in my chest 4 days later.

We started tests for every disease we know: cancer, ALS, amyloidosis, Lyme, malaria and many more. They were negative, so the search continued. I was getting sicker with more heart failure resulting in a lower and lower ejection fraction, the amount of blood pumped to the rest of the body. Now I went into ventricle tachycardia (VTACH, that feels like a heart attack with pressure and tightness in your chest that moves up into your neck and arms and head until they feel like they will explode!. I went immediately to the nearest emergency room. I was transferred the University of Washington Medical Center emergency room on Friday afternoon before Memorial Day weekend.

This began my care at to the University of Washington Medical Center (UWMC), my alma mater and the regional transplant center for WAMI( Washington, Alaska, Montana, and Idaho). They started over, repeating many of the tests for diseases and finally after 6 months decided I had sarcoidosis of the heart, a very rare disease. High doses of prednisone were prescribed with input from the Mayo Clinic for 16 months to slow the disease that was killing my heart and finally My heart transplant 8/3/2008 after 15-month wait on the transplant list and being home bound for 13 months with a portable infusion pump and PICC line. Delivering a drug straight to my heart to help it contract better, but still only BP of 80/60 and  I was not very functional. I was fortunate to survive!

I returned to work full time 4 months later as the Master Scheduler of GM Nameplate, where we manufacture touch screens and membrane switches for medical equipment all of which I used, CareFusion infusion pumps, NELLCOR bladder scanners, and MEDTRONICS defibrillators.

I met my donor family one month after writing my letter, just  7 months after my transplant at a Donate Life sponsored event. I went to Joseph’s high school graduation to stand up with his parents and accept his honorary diploma. I spend a weekend every year staying with them and see them each year at Donate Life donor celebration events.

Just 13 months after my heart transplant I was privileged to walk my eldest daughter Jenny down the aisle and soon after that her younger sister, Laura. I am now blessed with 4 grandchildren.

It has not been an easy road to journey, as I have had 5 surgeries since my heart transplant in 2008: a right hip replacement,  a neck fusion, 3 back surgeries that included a  fusion, most likely caused by the high doses of prednisone used to slow my disease down so I would live long enough for a transplant. Some might think of a heart transplant as a disability, but rather it has opened opportunities that I never could have imagined.

I am privileged to be a volunteer at UWMC as part of the ICU Advisory Council and a patient/family liaison in the ICU’S, helping to Improve the patient and family experience and encourage them with my story.

I have enjoyed immensely working with the American Heart Association, As an advocate and lobbyist in our Washington state legislature on issues such as teaching CPR to all high school students, improving our emergency cardiac/stroke response systems which saves lives and greatly improves survival by using clot-busting technology. I also have been a Heart Walk team captain for 4 years. We had over 200 fellow employees and friends walking with me and raising $11,000 this October.

I have been to the Transplant Games of America twice. This is how we honor our donor families and show everyone that we can live a high-quality level of life after transplant.

In 2010 in Madison, Wisconsin, I  was able to win a silver medal playing doubles tennis at age 56 versus 30-year-olds on the exact date of my heart transplant 2 years earlier.

What a joy to send pictures to my donor family, The Galinat’s in Montana! This past June  I competed playing tennis, winning a  silver medal in singles and gold in doubles. I was able to honor my donor Joseph at the games with his picture in the donor tribute room and then a month later present that picture and the gold medal to his parents at a Donate Life event.

It does not get much better than that!

“I believe I am here for a reason, and my purpose is greater than my challenges.” Jon Gordon

I am blessed as a Survivor and now Thriver!

Lived thru my tough times on faith, hope, and love. A joyful heart is good medicine, but a crushed spirit dries the bones, PRV 17:22

One heart beat at a time, Turner Prewitt

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Anna Schwinger

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