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Carrying on with heart: Tammy Ripley, transplant recipient looks to future after receiving lifesaving donation

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Tammy Ripley, transplant recipient, spent 90 days on the transplant wait list

Tammy Ripley spent 90 days on the transplant wait list. She remembers every detail from the day she found out she would be receiving a heart transplant, right up until the moment she came out of surgery.

“It was a nice day in April a few years ago, around 2 p.m. I was feeling very sick that day and down,” she recalled.

“My friend had taken me for a walk in hopes of cheering me up. My cell phone rang on our way home and just like that - I got the news that I was going to get a second chance at life.”

Ripley was born with Familial Hypertrophic Cardiomyopath - a condition characterized by thickening of the heart muscle. While manageable in the beginning, her symptoms worsened as she entered her younger adult years.

“I was determined to push through it,” said Ripley.

“I did my best to stay active and continue to do things I loved like skating and skiing. It wasn’t until I was about thirty that it became a life or death issue.”

She became weaker, had trouble breathing and was hospitalized on several occasions for fluid build-up. 

A teacher for over 15 years, working in a preschool and after school care, Ripley was now too sick to work and was dependent on Victoria Order of Nurses (VON) just to get through the day.

“My body was working against me and there was nothing I could do to make it better,” said Ripley.

“My loved ones watched me go downhill and deteriorate to nothing. I couldn’t do the activities that I was used to. Stepping back at work, taking on a new role and not being as involved really took a toll on me mentally.”

Ripley received her transplant the next day. 

She is forever grateful to her donor and their family for the selfless gift she received that day. Not taking a single moment for granted, she promised herself she would press on for that person and their loved ones.

“As much as it is a celebration for me, it was still an incredibly sad and difficult day for someone else’s family,” said Ripley.

“A piece of that person lives on in me and I know every day is a blessing because of them.”

When Ripley woke up from her transplant, she could hear and feel her heart loud and clear. She could finally breathe and for the first time in a long time, she thought about her future.

“It’s a lot to go through,” she said.

“You don’t realize how much it takes for your body to run and what a transplant can do to turn your life around again.”

She credits her support system including the transplant team at the Queen Elizabeth II Health Science Centre for her success and how she feels today. Describing the process and her own journey as complex and emotional, emphasizing they were there for her every step of the way.

“They were absolutely amazing,” she said.

“Answering every question I had or my family had. They were so encouraging. Having a team like that made everything more bearable. I couldn’t have gone through it without them.”

Ripley’s progress is slow but promising. She’s babysitting again and adjusting to her new normal. She keeps up with the necessary courses every year to qualify for her teaching license with the hope of returning someday – something that would have been impossible to do without her heart transplant.

“I’m just a girl from a small town who had the unfortunate circumstances of being sick from a very young age and donation saved my life. I plan on making the best of it.”

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