Local woman gets heart transplant

Renee Rowell received a heart transplant May 30.

Renee Rowell received a heart transplant May 30.

A May 29 Facebook post by Sonja Fitzgerald reads, Y’all, tell me God ain’t real! Renee Rowell got an unexpected call to get to Vanderbilt in Nashville to get her new heart! Praise the Lord! She has to be there in 4 hours. Please pray that the pilot will have no trouble getting them there on time. Martie Dixon, is driving to Atlanta to meet the pilot to get them! Pray for safe driving! They are doing surgery on Renee tonight!”

Renee made the list for a much-needed heart transplant after physicians diagnosed her with congestive heart failure in 2016. Her ejection fraction, a measurement used to calculate the percentage of blood that leaves the heart every time it contracts, went down to 10, she said. Normal ejection fractions typically range from 60-70 in healthy adults. Renee began cardiac rehab and wore a defibrillator and took medicine and raised her ejection rate back to 55.

“They said I was almost back to normal,” she said.

Then in 2019, at the age of 68, her heart took a turn for the worse. Her ejection fraction rate bellowed down to five for no apparent reason. While she was hospitalized she was given two choices, wear a Left Ventricular Assist Device (L/VAD) or die. Doctors implanted the pump, designed for patients who have reached end-stage heart failure. The battery-operated device assisted the left side of Renee’s heart by pumping blood to the rest of her body.

“All the wires are in my stomach and it came out of my side,” Renee said. “I was hooked to 10 lbs. of batteries that I carried around.”

At night Renee plugged herself into an outlet.

“I am the bionic woman,” she said jokingly. “I just didn’t want to have an L/VAD for the rest of my life.”

For three years, Renee fought to be added to an organ donor list. Due to her age, she was told numerous times, she was too old to receive a heart.

“I’m 71, so I thought there was no hope,” Renee claimed. But, every transplant center has its own criteria, and things changed after a doctor suggested she call Vanderbilt University Hospital in Tennessee. After numerous trips and evaluations, the hospital told her she was eligible for a transplant.

“They told me I didn’t look my age and my body was in good shape,” Renee said and added that for the next 30 days, she was considered to be a number three priority on the waiting list. If a match didn’t materialize in the next month, she would have remained on the list but moved down one level to the L/VAD category four on the priority list.

Renee said she faced criticism about wanting a heart transplant at her age.

“I am just deserving as anyone else,” she said. “I have a lot of life to live. I have 12 grandchildren and four great-grandchildren that need their grandma. I don’t want anyone to pass away for me to live, but I do feel like I am as deserving of a heart as anybody.”

Renee said she looks forward to being able to manage daily tasks without toting a 10-lb battery pack around. She often finds herself exhausted and out of breath.

“I would love to work, I have done hair in Burke County for 50 years,” Renee said laughing. “I’m used to working in a beauty shop and running my mouth all of the time.”

Doctors don’t know why Renee’s heart failed. However, she fought and beat breast cancer after 28 rounds of radiation in 2011. She also had lymph nodes removed after a battle with melanoma.

Renee credits local friends and family members for support- ing her through her condition. A GoFundMe account, started by her sister, Helen Iris De- Laigle, can be accessed by searching Renee Rowell. There is also an account at the First National Bank called Renee’s Transplant Fund. Donations may be mailed or dropped off with a teller.

According to the National Library of Medicine, “Patients who are aged 70 years and older can undergo heart transplantation with similar morbidity and mortality when compared with younger recipients. Advanced heart failure patients who are aged 70 years and older should not be excluded from transplant consideration based solely on an age criterion. Stringent patient selection, however, is necessary.”

A May 30 Facebook post written by Renee’s daughter, Martie Dixon, stated that the Renee was doing well after the surgery.

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