We often think of the heart when we talk about organ donation in general. The heart symbolizes love. But for others, a heart holds a much deeper meaning. For those few individuals who have received a heart transplant, it symbolizes the difference between life and death, and every thumping beat is a second chance at living a full life.
For individuals that have received heart valve tissue transplants, specifically donated heart valves, they also feel this special connection to a much deeper meaning.
What is a Donated Heart Valve?
Tissue donation differs from organ donation in several ways. First there is no waiting list for most tissue transplants and the tissues are available when someone needs them. Donated tissues can be used to help and heal people in several different and meaningful ways. Tissue donation is more common than you think. In fact, you may be a tissue donation recipient without even knowing it.
Donated heart valves can replace damaged ones, allowing the heart to function again. When used in young patients, these donated heart valves can actually “grow” with the recipient and reduce the need for repeated surgeries. Just like Tanasia.
Tanasia, Heart Valve Tissue Donation Recipient
Growing up with a heart condition, Tanasia always worried about whether her heart would be ok, even doing the simplest things. Tanasia was born with a heart defect called Tetralogy of Fallot, a condition where you’re born with a hole in your heart. She had her first surgery at 3 months old, a day she says was likely the worst day of her family’s lives.
At the age of 6, because her family members are big football fans, she was introduced to cheerleading and dance. Cheering and dancing were some of the only things she could do that didn’t put too much of a strain on her heart. She soon found that her whole world revolved around the sport, so much so that she couldn’t imagine herself not cheering or dancing.
In middle school, Tanasia’s cardiologist told her and her mom that she’d likely have to have another surgery. Tanasia worried more about not being able to cheer than she did about her own health. She found herself stuck and not knowing what to do.
At the age of 14, Tanasia underwent a pulmonary valve replacement and received a donor heart valve. Her surgery was in the middle of the summer, and she had to quit cheering. A week after surgery, she was readmitted to the hospital with a fever. It was at that point that she really started to worry about her health. She was scared to do anything. Tanasia missed cheering but feared that if she started back, something would happen, and she would get sick again.
By the time she was a junior in high school, her family had moved to Texas. Texas was big into football, and so, of course, cheer was big too. With much encouragement from her family, Tanasia tried out for her high school cheer team in her senior year and made varsity. Soon after getting back into cheer, Tanasia was honored to get to meet her donor’s family. She was nervous and didn’t know what to say, but her donor’s family embraced her and told her all about her donor, their daughter.
“They told me what she was like, which made me realize how lucky I was to have received the blessing of her donation. I realized I shouldn’t take my surgery for granted, and that I should live my life fully with no regrets. I am now able to do what I love and more. Being able to talk to my donor’s family opened my eyes to the magnitude of the blessing that was bestowed upon me.”
Tanasia is now a happy and healthy 19-year-old, cheering in college and doing the things she loves. Thanks to our partners at the American Association of Tissue Banks for sharing this story with us.
Life, Love and Legacy Lives On Through Heart Valves
As you can see, Tanasia’s life was forever changed by the selfless gift of her donor and donor’s family. Heart valves, like all tissue donations, save and heal lives. Did you know – just one person has the potential to save and heal more than 75 others through organ, eye and tissue donation?
Amazing right? The ripple effect you can have on your community is one of great magnitude. Donation leaves a legacy of life and love for years.
Inspired to register as an organ, eye and tissue donor in Wyoming?
Remember your most recent decision is honored, so say Yes to organ, eye and tissue donation every time you get or renew your driver license or state ID at your local Wyoming Driver Services office. You can also say Yes to saving lives online anytime. And always share your decision with your loved ones.