Dual-heart transplant recipient Michelle Rambarran likes to pay tribute to her two donors by frequently telling her own family that she loves “all three of them.” (Photo: UHN)
The transplant changes your life. For those who receive a heart transplant, the bond with their donors is especially deep.
“Before my first heart transplant, my mother called me and said ‘pray for the donor, pray for his family, they are grieving right now,'” recalls Michelle Rambarran. At the time, Michelle was a 32-year-old mother.
“This conversation is something I will never forget,” she said.
Now, nearly 15 years and a second heart transplant later, Michelle pays homage to her donors, frequently telling her family that she loves them “with all my three hearts.”
Michelle underwent a spontaneous coronary artery dissection in 2005 and was listed for a transplant two years later. To keep her native heart as long as possible, doctors encouraged Michelle to exercise as much as she could.
“It’s about building community and supporting each other in recovery.”
This commitment to wellness is something Michelle continues to champion not only for herself, but also for the heart transplant community.
Throughout June, Michelle organized and participated in the Step Together Challenge, an event run by the HeartLinks Support Network at the Peter Munk Cardiac Centre. Participants track their weekly steps and submit them to team captains to track their progress.
Michelle is quick to point out that this is not a competition – despite the name.
“You don’t know what stage of the transplant each participant is in,” she says. “So it’s more about building community and supporting each other in recovery.”
As the pandemic halted in-person events, HeartLinks found the opportunity to create its first virtual event to bring the team together. Although only in its second year, the Step Together Challenge has over 100 participants.
HeartLinks began in the 1980s as a support network for heart transplant recipients and their families. Since then, it has become an important source of strength and community for heart transplant recipients, left ventricular assist device (LVAD) recipients, families and caregivers receiving care and support at the Peter Munk Cardiac Center .
“It’s good for us to talk about our experiences with someone who’s been through this as well,” Michelle says. “You build a bond and a friendship.
“There are things that an ordinary person might find easy to do that are difficult for us, and talking about those similarities reminds us that we are not alone.”
Patient Support Journey at the Peter Munk Cardiac Center
The support provided by HeartLinks and other programs at the Peter Munk Heart Center is invaluable to the well-being of patients and families, says Michelle. Having the support of therapists, other patients and staff helps ensure that no patient is ever alone.
Stella Kozuszko, a nurse practitioner who has worked with heart transplant patients for over 20 years, has seen patients go through the ups and downs of heart transplantation.
When Michelle discovered she needed a second heart transplant, Stella was there by her side to guide her.
“Stella was always the one who said, ‘It’s not the end of the world, it’s a stepping stone,'” Stella says. “We will solve this problem together. »
The Peter Munk Cardiac Center offers our patients the opportunity to live their lives and achieve their goals, says Stella, who has worked with HeartLinks and has known many of its members for decades.
“If a patient is depressed, we help them refocus and remind them to look forward,” she says. “You really become part of their family.”
Michelle’s advice to those just beginning their journey is to use the supports available to you.
“I’m not going to say this trip is easy because it isn’t,” she says. “But the team here is amazing – the support and hope they give their patients means the world.”
To learn more about HeartLinks and their events, visit them on Facebook, Twitter or Instagram. If you are a heart transplant recipient or caregiver and would like more information about speaker events, celebrations for heart recipients and caregivers, and other activities, email the HeartLinks team at [email protected].