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Patient Story

Meet: Shawn Galloway

  • Age: 38 (at implant)
  • Diagnosis: Cardiomyopathy
  • Implant: July 22, 2011
  • Freedom® discharge: Aug. 23, 2011
  • Transplant: Sept. 20, 2011
  • Residence: Cypress Fairbanks, Texas
  • Hospital: Texas Heart Institute

Three Months Pregnant

I was first diagnosed with congestive heart failure at age 30, when I was three months pregnant with my daughter Hannah. I was having the typical shortness of breath and having trouble walking from my bedroom to the bathroom. I was hospitalized for about three weeks. The doctors were able to stabilize me with medication.

I went through the rest of my pregnancy normally other than I had to see a specialist, because it was a high risk pregnancy. I delivered her just fine.

Strong Possibility of Needing a Heart Transplant

However, a year after my daughter was born, I started having the same symptoms: shortness of breath, difficulty walking from place to place and my legs and feet were swelling. After that, I was admitted to the hospital. That's when the doctors first told me there was a strong possibility I would need a heart transplant.

I was pretty much in denial for quite some time. I thought, hey, if that's what I have to do, I'll go see the specialist, but I don't need a transplant. I was 31 years old with a one-year-old baby… I thought there's just no way I can go through this.

I was transferred to Texas Heart Institute. My cardiologist there told me, "You're young. You feel good. You have a daughter. Let's put this transplant off as long as possible."

Downhill from There

In February 2011, I came down with a virus of some sort, a typical cold, and things went downhill from there. I never quite recovered from it and I ended up in the hospital again, seven years after my initial diagnosis.

My cardiologist told me we had gotten all the miles we could out of my heart and that they were going to start working me up for a transplant.

It was beyond my ability to grasp. You hear about heart transplants, but you never really think it's going to happen to you. They got me on the transplant list but I got sicker and sicker as I waited.

The Will to Survive

I had an 8-year-old daughter that needed me. I couldn't bear the idea of leaving her, my husband and my mother behind.

Every night we prayed for a heart to come and it just never did. When the doctors told me about the Total Artificial Heart, I couldn't imagine not having a human heart beating inside of me… needing a manmade machine to sustain me. But I was at death's door and I just thought if I'm going to survive, this is what's going to have to happen.

The first thing I remember after the surgery to implant the Total Artificial Heart was my husband standing over me. He leaned down and kissed me and said that I had come through the surgery and that I was doing well. The first thing I thought was to thank God for sustaining me and bringing me through the surgery. I was incredibly grateful for the availability of this amazing technology.

From Gray to Pink

I had my breathing tube removed just a couple days after the implant surgery. The first thing my family said after the surgery was they could not believe how pink my skin was and how deep the color of my lips was because I was getting oxygen for the first time in months. Before the surgery, I had been ashen and gray because I was so sick.

I definitely felt better with the Total Artificial Heart. I could breathe when I walked and I didn't feel like I was going to suffocate. I could get up and walk across the room. Before, it was a struggle just to go from one room to the other. It was like an elephant had been sitting on my chest and then suddenly, that elephant got off.

Freedom from the Hospital

I was the first patient in Houston to be switched to the Freedom portable driver. I was nervous, but the opportunity to get out of the hospital I'd been stuck in for the last six months was thrilling to me. On Aug. 23, 2011, I was discharged from the hospital just in time to take my daughter to her first day of third grade.

With the Freedom driver, I was able to go shopping at the mall, take my daughter to the pool and watch her swim and go out to dinner with my family. I was also able to go to church with my husband Joel, who is a pastor, and listen to him preach.

We Have a Potential Donor

On Sept. 20, 2011, we were getting ready to pick up my daughter from school when the hospital called. They told me, "You need to stop taking your medication, don't eat anything else and come on down to the heart clinic because we have a potential donor for you." I was dumbfounded; I didn't think it would come that quickly.

I woke up after the transplant and told my husband we need to thank God for my donor heart and pray for my donor family, who is going through an excruciating time. While we were thrilled for the new life that had been given to me, we also felt terrible for their loss.

A Loss for Words

My donor was a 35-year old woman. I'm just four years older than that. There's a very real possibility she had a young husband and children too. I wrote a letter to her family, knowing I might never hear from them. I wanted to reach out to them and let them know I think about them every day and remember her life. I am so thankful for the gift that they gave me. I can't even express in words how I feel towards them and how I feel about her. Every birthday, every holiday, I think about them and wonder what they are doing and how they are coming through this first year without their loved one.

An Amazing Support System

My entire family has been the most amazing support system for me. I could not have come through this without my husband Joel. Before I received the Total Artificial Heart, I actually lost consciousness one night. By the grace of God, he woke up out of a dead sleep, noticed I wasn't breathing and that I had a weak pulse, and started CPR. I wouldn't be here if it weren't for him.

I never once woke up in the hospital in the middle of the night by myself. He stayed with me every night for virtually a year. He was my rock. When my feet needed rubbing, he rubbed them. When I was crying, it was his shoulder I was crying on. The same goes for my mom, who took care of Hannah while I was sick. I couldn't have done it without them.

Better Than I've Felt in Years

I am extremely thankful for the Total Artificial Heart. Coming up on 9 months since my transplant, I feel great, I feel amazing. I feel better than I've felt in years, maybe even my entire life. It's unreal how good I feel. I do whatever I want.

We are currently in the process of adopting a baby. Our baby girl is due Sept. 21, 2012, and we are super excited about the new addition to our family. It is just one more reason that we are so thankful for the Total Artificial Heart! I wouldn't even be here to consider adopting had it not been for the grace of God and a company called SynCardia!

It Is Possible to Get Through This

I would encourage people to sign up to be donors because there is an extreme shortage. People are dying every day because they need an organ and none become available.

I volunteer every Wednesday at the hospital, talking to other patients waiting for a transplant as someone who has been through it. It is possible to make it through this; not only because of the technology but also because of the grace of God. It's because of Him that I'm still here and that this kind of technology is available.

News Update:
On March 2, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved a Humanitarian Use Device (HUD) designation for the Total Artificial Heart to be used for destination therapy in addition to its current approval as a bridge to transplant. The next step is for SynCardia to submit a Humanitarian Device Exemption (HDE) to the FDA. Once approved, the HDE will allow up to 4,000 U.S. patients annually who are not transplant-eligible to receive the Total Artificial Heart on a permanent basis.

Spring 2010: Shawn Galloway with her husband Joel and her daughter Hannah a year before Shawn received the Total Artificial Heart.
July 2010: Shawn celebrating her daughter's 7th birthday at Joe's Crab Shack.
August 2010: Hannah's first day of 2nd grade, right before Shawn's condition began to go downhill.
2011: Shawn Galloway between hospital stays after coming down with a virus that February.
Aug. 23, 2011: Shawn Galloway was discharged from Texas Heart Institute to wait for a matching donor heart at home using the Freedom portable driver to power her Total Artificial Heart.
December 2011: Shawn Galloway post-transplant with her husband Joel and her daughter Hannah. Shawn received her heart transplant on Sept. 20, 2011, after 60 days of life with the Total Artificial Heart. Photo by Thomas Nguyen
Joel and Shawn Galloway attend church with fellow Total Artificial Heart recipient Jeremiah Kliesing and his wife Jennifer. Jeremiah and Shawn were both bridged to transplant with the Total Artificial Heart at Texas Heart Institute.


NEXT ›› Patient Story: Mia Welch

*The SynCardia temporary Total Artificial Heart was formerly known as the
SynCardia temporary CardioWest™ Total Artificial Heart.

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