Woman celebrates gift of life that saved her from heart failure

Published: Dec. 9, 2021 at 10:27 PM CST
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TOPEKA, Kan. (WIBW) - Whether it’s stress, cold weather, unhealthy eating, or not wanting to disrupt an already busy schedule, the holidays seem to be a prime season for heart issues.

But Brenda McMurphy of Topeka says you need to listen to your heart.

“I do feel like a walking experiment,” she says with a smile.

Brenda taught science at Landon Middle School.

“I think today we have teach kids to be curious and be interested, and science is a do subject - we “do” science,” she said.

But Brenda slowly realized she was doing less.

“I was still going with my grandkids to ball games, but I’d have to stop going up any inclines. At school, I was tired and out of breath. I would have to choose between walking and talking,” she said. “I didn’t realize, apparently, I wasn’t laughing and sneezing and singing.”

She jokes they also thought her husband had become hard of hearing, but it turned out she simply was speaking more quietly because she couldn’t get the breath to sustain a louder volume.

Swelling in her eyes and ankles finally sent Brenda to the doctor in March. A test came back indicating she was in heart failure.

“I get and call and it’s, ‘You need to go to the emergency room right now!’” Brenda recalls.

Dr. Chen H. Chow, a cardiologist at Topeka’s Cotton O’Neil Heart Center, says heart failure is a condition where the heart no longer adequately pumps blood.

“As a result of that, two problems exist: one, there’s not enough blood flow to all the organs, and two, things start to get congested,” he explained.

The congestion leads to the symptoms Brenda had started to notice - swelling, shortness of breath, abdominal discomfort, and fatigue.

“If someone is having shortness of breath with laying flat, or waking up in the middle of night, short of breath, gasping for air - that can be quite specific for heart failure,” Dr. Chow said.

Dr. Chow says about 70 percent of heart failure is related to damage down when blockages in the arteries lead to a heart attack. In those cases, he says the best way to prevent heart failure is to prevent the heart attack through a healthy diet, exercise, and controlling cholesterol, blood pressure and diabetes.

For the rest of the cases, heart failure can result from genetic mutations, viral infections, or certain medications.

In Brenda’s case, there was no explanation. She spent eight days in the hospital, then Dr. Chow and his team put her on a plan trying to strengthen her heart.

“There are many options for heart failure patients these days,” Dr. Chow said. “We have a total of four to six medications for heart failure proven to improve survival and improve quality of life.”

Unfortunately for Brenda, a follow-up test four months later showed it wasn’t working. Dr. Chow sent her to St. Luke’s Hospital in Kansas City, one of Stormont Vail’s partners for transplant care.

“(Within) the next day or two, I was at St. Luke’s for evaluation and they said I wasn’t going home,” she said. “Two days later, a heart was found - and it was pretty miraculous.”

That was July 23rd, and Brenda hasn’t slowed since.

“It’s been a great heart. I’ve named him ‘Turbo.’ Turbo just goes!” Brenda said. “I have energy. I can laugh. I can sing....not well!”

She says she owes it to her care team, and the family who gave the ultimate gift.

“I’m absolutely grateful,” she said. “I’m so appreciative of the donor’s family to agree to do that.”

Brenda encourages everyone to register to become an organ donor. In Kansas, visit donatelifeks.com.

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