DURHAM, N.C. (WNCN) — The birth of a baby is one of life’s most joyful moments, but for one mother that moment also brought a life-threatening diagnosis — one that eventually left her in need of a heart transplant.
Before her son was born, Katy Arvia’s excitement about becoming a mom overshadowed the uncomfortable symptoms that came late in her pregnancy, swollen feet and ankles, fatigue, and shortness of breath.
Her son’s birth brought immeasurable joy, but little relief and soon after, these words left Arvia shaken. A doctor told her, “You are in heart failure.”
“What I thought to myself is, ‘Your heart is failing; you are going to die, and that’s it,'” recalled Arvia.
Doctors diagnosed her with peripartum cardiomyopathy, a rare pregnancy complication. Medications and heart pumps failed to heal her heart, and as years passed by, she missed out on much of her little boy’s life.
“I wanted to be with my son. I wanted to be his mom, and I wanted to be the one who takes care of him and I was unable to do that,” she said.
Arvia needed a transplant, but her case was complex, which made it difficult to find a match.
“Not only is it a needle in a haystack, basically one perfect needle in many haystacks,” Arvia said.
Eventually Arvia left her home in the Northeast to move to South Carolina, closer to Duke where doctors are performing a new type of heart transplant.
Cardiologist Adam DeVore was one of Arvia’s doctors.
“We did the first DCD heart transplant in December 2019. That was the first one done in the United States,” he explained.
DCD stands for “donor after cardiac death.” Duke is one of a handful of hospitals across the country performing this type of heart transplant.
“The heart actually stops then we take the heart out and restart it in a box,” said DeVore. He added that the technique enables doctors to use a heart from farther away, which means more chances to find a match.
In Arvia’s case, he said, “Being able to expand the geography where we could fly made a big difference to her.”
Three weeks after going on the transplant list, Arvia says doctors called her with “the perfect heart.”
Arvia is now fully recovered from her transplant, and nearly eight years after coming home from the hospital with a newborn baby and a devastating diagnosis, she is making up for lost time.
“We get to go outside and play basketball, and play basketball, kick a soccer ball around and it’s fun,” she said.
She takes nothing for granted — she’s thankful for her doctors, and even more so, for her donor and their family.
“Appreciate is not good enough. Thank you is not good enough,” said Arvia. “I just I want them to know that their gift to me, it will be kept safe and healthy and be used for good.”
Her heart is forever full of gratitude, she says.