Snow storm prevents transplant patient from receiving heart

Snow Storm Prevents Transplant Patient from Receiving Heart
Snow Storm Prevents Transplant Patient from Receiving Heart

This is the story of how the brutal winter weather literally blew away the hopes of better health for one heart transplant patient. After hearing that a heart was finally available, Amy Lanning Becerra discovered that Mother Nature had a different plan.

'All these hearts here are for the surgeries I've had,' she said, showing off the strings hanging off her monitors.

They're called 'beads of courage,' and each one represents a heart procedure.

'When I get home I plan to string them around my house,' Amy says.

For now, this is home. Amy has been at Lurie Children's Cardiac Care Unit for four months. At 35 she's not a typical patient, but this is where her doctors are: the same doctors who have treated her for more than three decades, and who now say she's too sick to leave.

'The last couple years I've felt sluggish, very lethargic, not a lot of energy.'

She needs IV medications and extra oxygen because her heart is too weak to pump enough blood to supply her body.

'They knew ultimately that the solution was going to be a transplant and it would be the best fix.'

There are blood pressure checks and blood draws and, in between all the activity, there is the wait.

'It's challenging, you learn a lot about yourself. I've had wonderful support.'

Her struggle began when she was two months old. Doctors discovered Amy had been born with only one ventricle. That's when she underwent her first heart procedure. There have been hundreds more since, and on Dec. 21, there should have been another.

'[My] doctor came in and told me we had a heart. I was so excited all I could do was laugh and cry and hug my husband.'

She was told a transport team would soon be on its way to procure the organ. But meteorologists predicted a different story.

Dr. Michael Monge, a cardiovascular surgeon at Lurie Children's said that 'there was a severe snow storm on the night we received a heart offer for Amy, and flights were cancelled out of Midway.'

Still, the team at Lurie was standing by, hoping they'd be cleared to travel.

'Eight o'clock, still no updates,' Amy remembers. 'Then one of the doctors from transplantation came over and said we wouldn't get the heart because of the weather.'

'We have approximately six hours to get it into the recipient, so that factors in when we're looking at weather patterns, making sure we can not only fly to the procuring hospital but also that we can return in a safe time,' Dr. Monge said.

'It was such a high and it was so exciting knowing I would have a bi fix and start to feel normal, it was devastating, hard to get through and very emotional for several days. I guess the only thing I can take away from it is it wasn't meant for me,' Amy said.

Now, more than a month later, Amy still waits and walks to pass the time.

'I'm terrified,' Amy admits. 'Every time I look out the window and see snow or frozen ice I get very nervous, very scared. I don't want it to happen to me again ... I try to still think of the positive and know we'll get through each day and there's still a high chance I'll get a heart on a sunny day.'

It's rare that a transplant is cancelled due to weather, but the safety of the transport team is always a top priority.

Want more information on Amy's situation? Amy's family has set up a web page in her honor.