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North Ogden woman honors donor, pushes on after rare heart-liver transplant

By Jamie Lampros, Standard-Examiner Correspondent - | Jan 31, 2016
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Heidi Martin, who underwent a heart and liver transplant in February 2015, lifts 5 pound weights Friday, Jan. 29, 2016, while she talks to Intermountain Healthcare North Ogden Clinic Physical Therapy Assistant Louise Anderson in North Ogden.

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Heidi Martin, who underwent a heart and liver transplant in February 2015, exercises on Friday, Jan. 29, 2016, as she talks with Intermountain Healthcare North Ogden Clinic Physical Therapy Assistant Louise Anderson in North Ogden.

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Heidi Martin, who underwent a heart and liver transplant in February 2015, lifts five pound weights during physical therapy Friday, Jan. 29, 2016, at Intermountain Healthcare North Ogden Clinic in North Ogden on.

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Heidi Martin, who underwent a heart and liver transplant in February 2015, warms up for physical therapy at the Intermountain Healthcare North Ogden Clinic in North Ogden on Friday, January 29, 2016.

NORTH OGDEN — Heidi Martin lights a candle on every holiday for a young woman she has never met.

That woman lost her life last year. She was an organ donor and a perfect match for Martin, who was waiting for a new heart and liver.

“It’s so hard to know someone lost their life so you could continue to live,” Martin said. “I don’t know who she was other than she was around 21 years old, so I got a candle in her memory, and I light it on every holiday in her honor and hope she is somehow there with me.”

Martin, 29, of North Ogden, was born with half a heart. In addition to that, the organs in her abdominal cavity were on the opposite side of her body. The condition would prove to cause a lifetime of complications.

One year ago, Martin had a very uncommon operation — a double heart-liver transplant. According to the Organ Procurement and Transplantation Network, only 186 people in the U.S. had a heart-liver transplant between 1992 and 2015. Four people from Utah had the procedure between 2012 and 2015. In order for the transplant to be a success, there must be precise teamwork between the cardiac and liver surgeons.

“Each organ depends on the other one to work. They protect each other,” Martin said.

The 15-hour transplant took place on Feb. 6, 2015, at Stanford University Medical Center. Martin would spend the next seven months at the hospital recovering.

“I spent seven months in the hospital, and it was not fun,” Martin said. “I had a lot of setbacks. I went into cardiac arrest and they aren’t sure why, and I was put on 24-hour kidney dialysis to try and get my kidneys to wake up. They were able to taper my dialysis down, but I now need a kidney transplant.”

Martin also experienced jaundice, a yellow discoloration of the skin caused by too much bilirubin in the blood, which required a stent to be placed into her bile duct.

The first time she stood up out of bed, Martin said her feet wouldn’t go flat on the ground because her muscles were so weak.

“I was on my tiptoes because the cords in my heels were so tight and the muscles in my feet and body were very weak,” she said. “I spent a solid month in rehab and still go to physical therapy to this day.”

All considering, however, Martin said things are going better than she ever anticipated.

“Before I had the transplant, my oxygen saturation was 79 or 80 on a good day, and now it’s in the 90s. I have never had my oxygen that high on my own before, and it feels really good,” she said. “My body also hasn’t rejected my new organs, and I’m very grateful for that.”

When Martin was just three days old, she underwent open heart surgery. At the time, surgeons also re-routed her veins and arteries and placed her liver on the correct side of her body.

When she was 5 years old, Martin had another surgery called the Fontan Procedure, which connects the blood vessel that drains de-oxygenated blood from the lower part of the body into the pulmonary artery.

“After that surgery, I had a fairly normal life,” Martin said. “But when I got into my 20s, I started to have problems. Blood was backing up into my liver, and a lot of fluid began building up in my feet, legs and abdomen. I was so tired I had to quit my job as a nurse at McKay-Dee Hospital.”

In a nutshell, Martin’s heart, liver and kidneys were failing. Doctors talked about several different options, but Martin said they were too risky.

“That’s when they basically told me I would need to get on the transplant list,” she said. “My doctor told me no one in Utah could do my type of transplant, so she helped me send information to several different institutions around the country, and Stanford University Medical Center accepted me.”

The plan was for Martin to move to California in early 2015 so she could be placed on the transplant list. On Jan. 14, she was admitted to Primary Children’s Medical Center with complications stemming from her liver.

“I was the oldest patient in the ICU, but I continued to go to Primary because that’s where my cardiologist was,” she said. “There were no beds available for several days at Stanford, so I stayed at Primary Children’s for several days. Then one night the nurse came running around the corner and she said, ‘Heidi, it’s time.’ Stanford had a bed for me, so they put me on the medical helicopter and flew me out. I got there at around 11 that night, and the next day they registered me on the transplant list.”

Martin remained in the hospital while waiting for a possible transplant.

“I prayed a lot,” she said. “I told God I’m not ready. I know He has the final say, but I asked Him to please consider that I’m not ready.”

As Martin’s condition continued to decline, she was placed on the high priority list for transplantation. Within three weeks, a new heart and liver were available.

“Apparently this was the third offer they had been given for me, but they had turned down the first two possible matches for some reason,” she said. “But on Feb. 5 at midnight, they took me to the operating room and started surgery at around 2 in the morning, so I actually got the transplant on Feb. 6.”

Martin said everything from prayer to family to community support helped her get through the toughest days.

“I really appreciate everyone being there for me. My mom and dad moved to California to be with me, and people sent me cards and pictures. My sister and brother in-law and a couple of friends held fundraisers for me. I still cry to this day thinking about it,” Martin said. “I am grateful for all the prayers that were said on my behalf. Every prayer counts.”

Martin’s mother, Leslie, said her daughter has always been a strong woman. Even through some of her worst days, she said Heidi continued to work and go to school.

“She has always pulled through — thick and thin — and her strong spirit has had an impact on all of us and has lifted all of us,” she said. “There were some real touch-and-go moments, and there were also some doubts. The doctors told us this was a very serious case and it wasn’t going be easy, but we knew God would answer in his time, and we’ve been amazed at Heidi’s faith and strength. Those surgeons took her in and they conquered it. We can’t thank them enough.”

Martin said next month, she will have an evaluation concerning a kidney transplant. In the meantime, she continues to be treated with dialysis several times a week.

“I’m considered end stage renal disease, but I continue to enjoy a pretty good life,” she said. “I get out as much as I can to visit family and friends, and I continue to have a lot of faith that things will be OK.”


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