Double transplant gives Cloquet woman new lease on lifeOn Monday morning around 8 a.m., Cloquet native Jessica Danielson called her brother, Brent, at his job at WKLK Radio in Cloquet. She nonchalantly began to discuss the weather and other mundane subjects before casually mentioning, “Oh, and I’m getting my organs today….”
By: Wendy Johnson, Pine Journal
On Monday morning around 8 a.m., Cloquet native Jessica Danielson called her brother, Brent, at his job at WKLK Radio in Cloquet. She nonchalantly began to discuss the weather and other mundane subjects before casually mentioning, “Oh, and I’m getting my organs today….”
Brent immediately sprang into action, all the while marveling at how his sister could keep her sense of humor, in the face of so significant a development in her life. He called the rest of the family and said, “We’ve got to get this thing rolling!” They were packed and on the road to Rochester by 9 a.m.
Later that same day, Jessica, 30, received a heart and liver transplant at Mayo Clinic’s St. Mary’s Hospital, the gift of an unknown donor.
Brent said it was “almost six months to the day” since Jessica had first entered the hospital to await the somewhat rare double organ transplant. She had been diagnosed at the age of 19 with restrictive cardiomyopathy – a condition where her heart wasn’t pumping enough blood for her body – which eventually led to congestive heart failure. At the time of her diagnosis, doctors told her she would either have a heart attack or die from the disease within three years.
Jessica, at age 30, had beaten the odds by a long shot, but her condition continued to take its toll. The lack of blood flow to her liver caused considerable damage to that organ as well, and doctors said the only option was to receive a double transplant, so she went on the nationwide transplant list and began the long, hard wait for a donor – until Monday’s welcome news that a match had at last been located.
As Jessica’s family traveled to Rochester on Monday, Brent said the only time frame they were given for the transplant was “sometime between noon and 6 p.m.” When they arrived at Jessica’s room, she cracked, “Don’t walk behind me – I’m not wearing anything under my hospital gown!”
The group nervously awaited word that the transplant would begin, taking photos and visiting.
“All the while we were waiting,” said Brent, “Jessica said she couldn’t stop thinking about the fact that someone else had to lose their life before doctors could save hers. That was a difficult thing for her.”
The only thing Jessica and her family were told about the donor was that the organs came from a female younger than Jessica.
When Jessica finally got the go ahead around 3 p.m., she gave everyone a thumbs up before being wheeled off to be prepped for the transplant. At 5 p.m., family members were informed that the team responsible for harvesting the organs from the donor had arrived at the unknown location, inspected the organs and found them to be “vigorous” and certified for transplant. Physicians in Rochester then got the word to go ahead and make the incision in anticipation of the arrival of the organs.
“The organs arrived in a little red cooler shortly after 6 p.m.,” related Brent. “By then, Jessica was on a heart bypass machine that was doing the breathing for her.”
Around 7 p.m., the family learned Jessica’s new heart was going in, and after that, Brent said, “time began dragging.” It seems that doctors encountered a complication with the heart, since Jessica had a valve repaired two years ago which made it difficult to attach the new one.
“One of her veins burst and the doctors said one of them literally had to put a finger on it to stop the bleeding and put her back on the bypass machine.”
Fortunately, the transplant team got past that dilemma, started Jessica’s new liver circulating and things progressed well after that.
By 6:30 a.m., Jessica was wheeled back to her room in the Intensive Care Unit, where she will now stay for the next two to three days. Then she will likely move to a regular room for her recovery period over the next two weeks and then remain in a transplant house in Rochester with her sister for the next three months for follow-up tests to assure that her body is not rejecting the organs.
“Hopefully, we will be able to get her outside to a park somewhere so she can enjoy the outdoors once again,” said Brent.
By midafternoon Wednesday, Brent reported Jessica was still running a high fever and hadn’t yet been taken off the ventilator, but she had opened her eyes several times and indicated that she recognized them. In the meantime, the family was sitting in her room with her, watching the televised reports of flooding back home in Carlton County – and feeling very blessed nonetheless.