Heart transplant gives Philadelphia woman a second chance at life
Heart disease is not something you typically think about at a young age. But ever since elementary school, when Philadelphia native Laverne Clark started having tightness in her chest, shortness of breath and leg cramping, this was her reality.
It wasn’t until Laverne was 19 that she was formally diagnosed with an enlarged heart. By age 20, a cardiologist confirmed she had a serious heart condition, caused by a virus that had destroyed her heart, and put her on medication.
As the years went by, Laverne could feel her body deteriorating. In her 30s, she developed an arrhythmia and got a pacemaker. Within five years, she went through two pacemakers, yet her heart kept getting progressively worse. By age 40, doctors said her only chance at living a full life was to have a heart transplant.
“I tried to get by,” Laverne said. “I tried to keep pushing myself, but it got harder and harder. I couldn’t work anymore, and I was so tired. I had a lot of swelling — in my stomach and legs. I couldn’t even walk the steps in my house to go to the bathroom.”
One night, as Laverne was making dinner, she got the call she had been awaiting for over a year: There was a heart available for her.
“I don’t think that I ever really thought I would get a heart,” she said. “I didn’t have much hope at that point. My goal had been to live until my daughter was out of high school, and to make sure that she was grown.”
It took some time for Laverne to heal, but now she’s stronger than ever. More than a decade after her transplant, she is a regular participant at the Donate Life Transplant Games of America, competing in the 100-meter run and the long jump, and even winning a medal.
“I’ve been able to do a lot since my transplant,” Laverne said. “I saw my daughter get married and have children. I’ve been able to travel.”
Laverne has been in touch with the donor family and promised them she would educate others about how her gift has completely changed her life. It’s what drives her to volunteer for Gift of Life and advocate for organ donation through public speaking.
“Words cannot express how grateful I am for my donor,” she said.