Woman prepares for half marathon three months after a heart transplant

Camille Doty

Oct. 6, 2011 at 5:06 a.m.

Kelley Drastata received a heart transplant on March 7 - three months later, she is training for a half-marathon.

Drastata feels connected to her donor although she doesn't know her by name. Her donor was 19 years old when she died.

If the heart transplant recipient could say anything to her donor, it would be "I know there's a seat in heaven for you."

The transplant recipient said organ donation is a selfless act but it comes with a sacrifice.

"Someone just lost their child, and I just received their heart," Drastata said.

The mother of three has a new lease on life, and she will have the support of other transplant survivors by her side at the Rock 'n' Roll San Antonio Marathon.

This race holds special meaning for Drastata.

"This will show the world, look at what we can do."

To prepare for the November race, Drastata walks four miles every day and works with Citizens Cardiac Rehab.

In January 2010, she had a heart attack, and days after her first surgery, her lungs collapsed.

Experts said her heart wasn't strong enough to get the blood to her brain and body.

Her husband, Darren Drastata, said even in the midst of having a massive heart attack, Kelley asked about others' well-being.

"She puts everyone else in front of her," he said. "She's always been that way."

Drastata said it was hard not being able to say goodbye to his wife because she was being prepped for emergency surgery. During his wife's procedure, he remained in prayer.

He thought about how he would explain the situation to their children if their mommy didn't come home.

Darren Drastata said his wife's tragedy helped him get rid of his pride. At first, he wanted to handle everything on his own.

"I didn't want anyone's help until I realized I was hurting other people," he said.

Now, the Drastatas have learned to take better care of themselves and not get upset over the small stuff.

Drastata, who will turn 38 on Saturday, said her faith in God has given her peace about the circumstances. She wears her cross close to her heart. Drastata is grateful for her family, the ACTS community and people all over the world for her recovery.

"People all over the world were praying for me."

Drastata grew up the youngest of six children on a farm in Runge. She described her family as close-knit and nurturing.

"We weren't the richest in money, but the richest in love."

She said she relates to the Christian tale, "Footprints," because she felt God was carrying her through tough times.

"I've been through heck and back," she said. "But I'm still here."

Drastata spent the last year of her life connected to a Left Ventricular Assist Device.

The LVAD is an implantable mechanical pump that helps pump blood from the lower left chamber of the heart's lower left chamber. The batteries to run the machine also weighed her down.

"It was like carrying an eight- to 10-pound baby with me 24/7."

At night she had to connect to a power source.

Because her immune system was so weak, she had to wear masks out in public and sterilize everything in the house.

A painful part of the process was not being able to go to her children's school and swimming with them in the pool.

Last year was an adjustment for Drastata and her family.

"I just want their lives to be as normal as possible."

She's grateful to have breath in her body because she almost didn't survive.

Drastata had three heart procedures: coronary artery bypass, LVAD - left ventricular assist device, and a heart transplant.

Dr. Yusuke Yahagi, from Citizens Medical Center performed the first operation. He stayed by the survivor's side for the first 24 hours.

"It was a 50/50 chance she would make it," he said. "It would take a miracle."

The Cariothoracic and Vascular Surgeon said the heart is a sensitive organ that's rare to come by.

To have a true donor/recipient match the blood and tissue types have to fall within an acceptable range.

And even if there is a match, the body can still reject the new organ. There are three types or rejection: acute, subacute and chronic.

Acute occurs on the operating table. Sub-acute happens between the date of operation and about two weeks after the surgery and chronic can happen anytime during the person's lifetime, according to Yahagi.

So far, Drastata has a 0-percent rejection rate. She must receive biopsies periodically to ensure the heart is functioning properly.

The odds are in Drastata's favor. According to the Mayo Clinic, heart transplant recipients have a 89.42-percent survival rate.

Yahagi not only supports but encourages Drastata's decision to participate in the half-marathon.

"She's only 38, her heart's only 21," he said. "I support her 120 percent."

Drastata's goals are to complete the marathon, get in touch with her donor's family and watch her children grow up.

But for the rest of her life, she will have to take anti-rejection medication.

"I'll never be 100 percent, but I'm going to try to get there."



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