Teresa Higby didn’t visit the doctor often as a child, but she remembers the visit when the doctor told her there was something “very different” about her heart. It wasn’t until she was in her late 30s that she saw a cardiologist who put a name on it – Hypertrophic Cardiomyopathy. She went on medication, but then went back to work and to raising her three daughters.
In 2003, Teresa’s condition began to noticeably worsen. Work and other aspects of daily life had taken a toll, and a pacemaker became necessary. In 2005, Teresa had the first of three open heart surgeries. Sadly, during this time, Teresa also lost her younger brother to the same congenital heart disease she was facing.
In 2015, Teresa’s team of cardiologists at Oregon Health & Science University gave her two options: heart transplant or hospice. The outlook wasn’t great; Teresa’s case was complicated, and she was at high risk for rejection of an organ. The cardiology team at Cedars-Sinai in Southern California, however, decided to try to improve her odds. They did two rounds of plasmapheresis and she joined a clinical research study to reduce the chances of rejection. And then, she waited, knowing the odds were slim.
On December 29, 2016, Teresa received a new heart from a generous donor named Jennie. Teresa has been under close care of the cardiology team at Cedars-Sinai, but is blessed to have had no complications or signs of rejection.
Teresa lives a life of active gratitude, and one of the most important steps for her was reaching out to Jennie’s family.
Teresa says, “I did not feel totally healed until I was able to make contact with and eventually meet my donor’s family. I learned that my donor lived a life devoted to her family and her faith. She was strong and brought joy and light to all who loved her. Her family is truly wonderful, and they have given me the most precious gift imaginable. There are no words to express the amount of gratitude and honor I feel.”
As Teresa lives on, “#JennieStrong,” she wants to give back, to honor all of those who have given so much to her.