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Hi my name is Ashlea Jerome
This is my story, I'd like to share it with you.

AshleaThe one in the bed is me of course with my heart monitor lead strings hanging out of my shirt! The dog's name is Nell and she was amazing! I wished I could have brought her home with me. The older man is my surgeon who you know I cherish with all of Laura's heart! The dark haired lady is his nurse named Stephanie who's like a mom to me, the other lady is Mary who is his Physicians Assistant and then the other guy is a resident they brought in to experiment on me some more! That pic was taken on December 9 of last year which happened to be my 19 birthday! I spent my birthday with my favorite people, of course at the time I hated them because they had to do surgery on me that morning but hey I had a smirky smile on my face so it is all gravy!

“Ashlea, The Ultimate Gift"
Everyone goes through something in their life that forever changes them. Whether you find God or you loose someone you loved. You just change. My change started in the winter of 2004. I went to the Cardiologist after being sick for six straight months. After they did lab testing and all of the regular heart tests, my doctors told me that I had an enlarged liver. My heart was so weak and was not pumping anything through my body, the way a normal heart does. I was born with two holes in my heart and after five major heart surgeries the poor thing was just tired.
Right before school let out my junior year I had a heart catheterization to see if Dr. Ward and the other cardiologists and thoracic surgeons could figure out if my heart could be fixed. Dr. Ward, my cardiologist, sat us all down and explained that no reconstructive surgery could fix me this time. He said that my heart was too weak to handle anything more if there was anything they could do.

Dr. Ward threw an ! idea at us to see what we thought. He told us that there was a doctor in St. Louis, Missouri that could get hearts for kids faster than anyone in the nation. He said he didn't know how he did it but Dr. Canter was the best in the business and he would call him. Now remember this was just an idea at the time. He also explained to us that my anatomy was difficult and that because of my anatomy the operation would not have been a success five years before. But there is one other person who can fix that. Dr. Huddleston to the rescue he can fix any problem by rewiring everything an redoing it all.

I met Kathleen Hurley and Nancy Hagin along with Dr. Charles Canter in July of 2004. I would have to wait to meet the man who performs the real miracles until the wee hours of the morning of October 23, 2004. I was listed as a status two on August 11 of 2004. I stayed a status two until October 12, 2004, when they listed me as a status one.

We moved to St. Louis on October 11, 2004 so I ! could receive a new heart.
My first offer happened to come on October 11th, which was my middle sisters 16th birthday. Nothing was a reality until then. I realized that I had made my decision and I could not back out and say I was too scared to go through with everything. Truthfully I always only pretended to be brave. My family and friends seemed more at ease with the fact that I was "cool" with everything. I don't think I have ever been more scared in my entire life. The first heart wasn't any good. That is what Dr. Canter told me and he told me that was the only reason why I had gotten the offer in the first place. I received my second offer a week later. I do not know the exact date because by that time things and days started running together. This time the heart was good and I was the secondary. I was second in line for that heart, but a little boy in Michigan needed the organ more than I did. Because I was the secondary meant I was next in my category.

On October 23 at 2:23 in the morning I got "the call." Surprisingly I was really relaxed. I had realized that I had no reason to be afraid. If I had known what was going to happen to me in the next three months I would have been terrified. If I had known every detail of the next three months I would have been scared. If I had known that I had almost died twice I would have been more than freaked out! After all of the complications from surgery and being so sick for such a long time it did not make things any easier on getting better for me.

Dr. Huddleston came in that morning around 10:00 and told me that he was the surgeon who would be doing my transplant who would be doing the surgery and Dr. Gandhi and the other fellows were going to "harvest" the organ. He literally said that they "harvest" the organs when they leave to retrieve them.

I am amazed at how much trust I actually had to put into this man. At the time I did not understand that either. Now that things are over and done with I completely understand how much I had to trust Dr. Huddleston and hope and pray that he would keep me from harms way. I am so amazed at how much this man has helped me. He saved me, and worried countless hours over the fact that I was so sick. He has treated me better than any doctor has ever treated me. I hope that one day I can give him back a fraction of what he has given me.

After having about 20 tubes of blood drawn from me ( and that's not a lie) and swallowing the most disgusting anti-rejection medicine in the world they took me back to the OR. Around 10:30 when I walked in and the first thing I saw was that scalpel! Oh my goodness I about fainted! All of the tools were lined up on the wall and I about had a cow. I just stood there for a little bit and then the nurse told me to jump up on the table. As they prepared everything she tried to make me comfortable. She stuck the gas mask on my face and told me to think happy thoughts. I knew that this was the one time w! hen my body would choose life or death. My last thoughts were prayers. "In my anguish, I cried to the Lord, and he answered by setting me free. The Lord is with me: I will not be afraid." (Psalms 118 5-6)

I have been through more than most in my nineteen years and I have never asked for sympathy or wanted any. I always figured that God created this battle especially for me to go through to show people how strong they could be and for them to find the good in life instead of the bad. I know for a fact that God does not create a mountain that we cannot climb. People respect me for that more than I ever realized. After everything that has happened to me I have never begged God to take it back. I respect myself for that.

I never realized that accepting someone else's heart would be so hard emotionally. This was never something I could prepare myself for, no matter what I told myself. At first they told me that I was going to receive a child's heart because I am so small. So I had to prepare myself for that emotionally. I had to be alright with the fact that someone's child was a big part of me. I had someone's baby's heart and that was probably the worst thing I had to think about in my life. Then they told me that my donor was twenty-three. I did not think about anything but the fact that she was twenty-three and I was eighteen at the time. My first thought was what would I do when I was old because my heart was five years older than I was. I was thinking one day after I had gotten better and I realized that this woman could have been a wife and a mom. I also realized that she was someone else’s baby no matter her age. I cried because I felt so guilty, I felt alone and scared. I decided that I could not bring her back either and that the only way I could make her happy was to honor her and do my best by her and hope she is happy with my choices.

No one knows how hard this was for me to accept. I struggle with the fact that she is dead twenty four hours a day. They say when one life ends another begins. When she died, my life began, I can do all of the things I have always wanted to do.
I began to think about how compassionate this family was to me. I began to feel Laura's presence more and more as if she was with me. I realized that I may be scared sometimes but I should not have to be because things do go wrong sometimes, I have learned one thing though, I have learned that when you take two steps backward no matter what those two steps were you always move forward in another direction to make up for those backward steps. Maybe one day I can show Laura's parents how much she has helped me and how she changed my life in a way that only her could have done, how happy I am to have received the gift of life from her and how I could not have chosen a better person to receive a heart from. I have so much respect for them and for her words cannot express how I feel.

I will never look at a cross on the side of the road ever ! again and think "oh someone died there, how sad." Ninety percent of organ donations come from traffic fatality. When I see that cross on the side of the road my soul aches because someone died in a car. People should not die that way but unfortunately they do.

I hope that my story has touched those around me even if they don't know me. I hope you realize that this is not an easy thing for me to talk about and that I did it for a school assignment in the beginning and it has progressed into a huge chain email. I will send this to my doctors, everyone of my family members and I have sent it to all of my friends. I will hand this out at church. I am a person who never shows sad emotions because I am such a happy person, but I do hurt and I do have feelings.
Looking back I realize that if I had the chance to do this over again I would do it again any day because of the small miracles I achieved every day during and after I began this process. I am still amazed at how this has all happed. I look back and I think "wow" because I realize that this is the one thing in my life that I am most proud of myself for. This was the milestone in me realizing that we are mere mortals and we have to all have to see life as a miracle and cherish the smaller moments in life instead of sweating the big ones.

People do not know how much it hurts to go through something so devastating and wonderful at the same time. I have had such a hard time throughout this whole time but things will get better. Accepting the fact that someone had to die for me to get a new heart was impossible, some days it still is. At first I was thinking about how Laura died for me. My wonderful surgeon explained to me one day as I begged him to put the old one in that Laura did not die for me, that she did die yes but her generosity was what had saved me. No one knows what this man has done for me, how he has changed my life, and no one knows how much I miss glaring at him everyday and hearing him ask ! me stupid questions. Leaving St. Louis was very hard because I had gotten so close to so many people. When you go through something like this the people who work with you don't just work for you but they become life family and you begin to care for them. You share the good times and the bad together, you tell stories and laugh and cry together, it's so hard to just leave them behind. I will never forget what Laura, Stephanie, Kathleen, Becki, Traci, Nancy, Dr. Canter, Stacy, Jo, Michael, Carol, Dr. Huddleston, and many more have helped me accomplish inside that hospital and out even after I came home we still communicate and have our laughs and share the inside jokes we all made.

I have met so many people who have had an organ transplant. Organ transplants aren't all that abnormal these days unfortunately it doesn't happen enough and many die waiting for their organ. We need more organ donations, more people need to be saved, and more people need to just get better. I realize now ! that I was one of the lucky ones. I do not understand how people can just ignore the organ donation card and not talk to their families about it because you cannot take your organs to heaven therefore you have no use for them after you are gone. Show someone you care. Show them the angel inside of you. Donate your organs, they do save many, many lives.
Ashlea Jerome

"I wrote this as my English essay, I received an A for it of course."  

I did send this to my hero Dr. H,. who I love and respect with everything I have. I dedicated it to him and Laura but I did not put it on this because of course since I dedicated it to him he has the dedication page and I don't, he also has my original copy. I decided to share this revised edition of this paper I wrote with you because not to many understand exactly what it was like going through all that I did. They don't understand the hurt and the pain of loosing something and someone. Whether or not you realize it I do not have my original heart and that does make me sad believe it or not, but in another sense I had to accept the fact that I did have a dead person's heart inside of me and that there was no way that this person was living and walking and breathing and laughing and experiencing the amazing things that I will get to experience. So therefore I had to mourn someone's death as well as part of my own body which is very depressing. Some days it's all I can think about, other's I push it out of my head and force myself to have a wonderful time and laugh and run and play like a little kid should. The people who helped me in this process I cherish more than I cherish my life, I realize that without them I would not be here, we all have a tight knit relationship and we still talk. I remember the tears and the laughter we all shared and the amazing experiences we went through together. I love them more than I love myself because without them I would not be the woman I am today. Thanks to everyone out there who reads this, who reads my story, who takes it to their heart, and spreads the word that I am lucky to even have made it this far.

Heart Transplant 1992

Echoing John's advice, I would say be positive, follow the advice the medics give you and don't be afraid to talk about your hopes and fears.

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