Meadville Tribune

Local News

February 16, 2013

Local woman placed on 'critical' heart transplant list

VENANGO — Sally Howles of Venango is one step closer to getting a new heart.

Howles, 60, has been accepted for inclusion on the “critical transplant list,” meaning she is on the list of possible recipients to receive a heart transplant should a heart become available.

For now, she is living on an IV pump, which pumps medication into her heart to keep her alive. Patients with pumps are listed as 1B patients, meaning they are on the second set of possible recipients. The first list, 1A, is for patients now hospitalized in intensive care units.

Howles has been having heart issues for 15 years and has been diagnosed with congestive heart failure, COPD, cardio myopathy, atrial fibrillation and myocarditis. Her problems started 15 years ago when she had shortness of breath. She said she never has had any heart pain; she just can’t breathe well.

Her condition has steadily worsened until now she needs the heart transplant. Doctors had a difficult time trying to determine the cause of her problems. After going through tests at Hamot Medical Center in Erie, the diagnosis was that at some time in her life, she picked up a virus, which apparently attached to her heart.

Her only hope now is for a new heart. She received notice Monday that she is “officially on the list.”

She’s excited with the prospect of having a healthy heart again. But, she said she is saddened to realize that somebody will have to die to make that a possibility.

“That is the sad part,” Howles said, but she is appreciative of the fact that people have signed up to be organ donors and give life to somebody else.

Although she has health issues, it has not kept her down. She is employed in the medical records department at Meadville Medical Center where she has worked since 1977 — seven years after she graduated from Meadville Area Senior High School. For the first 11 years, she was third-shift switchboard operator and then transferred to medical records.

She rarely missed work —– except for heart issues. “Last year was really rough,” she said, referring to her worsening condition. She had to use all her allotted sick time because of hospitalizations — in Meadville, Hamot and at Presbyterian Hospital in Pittsburgh a couple of times.

However, she doesn’t allow her health issues to keep her from enjoying life. She is the mother of three children, Megan, Greg and Michael; and grandmother of two, Ethan and Harper. She lives with her daughter and granddaughter.

She loves to crochet, read, anything about the Steelers and being outdoors.

Howles said she is not too nervous about the procedure. She is anxious about making certain that she gets to Presbyterian in time once she gets the call that there is a heart for her.

“I have four hours to get there,” she said. “That’s not four hours and five minutes. I can’t be in the parking garage. I have to be inside Presbyterian Hospital.”

That shouldn’t be a problem, as the trek to Pittsburgh usually doesn’t take more than two hours. But, she’s a little anxious about it.

She also knows that the heart must be a perfect match. But, she’s looking on the positive side and is confident this will happen — and soon.

Although she has insurance to cover the costs, it won’t cover all the extras. For example, she said after the operation and her discharge, she will be tested every day — to be certain the heart isn’t being rejected and everything is OK. That means she could either drive home every day or stay at the University House across from the hospital at a cost of $40 a day. Howles is hoping to use that option. If a family member wants to join her there, the cost is $60 a day — plus meals.

“There’s a lot of unrelated expenses,” she said about the upcoming transplant procedure. For example, there will be medications that she isn’t sure how much her insurance will pick up as well as other routine things.

One stipulation for being included on the list was the patient has to have insurance and the ability to meet the costs.

That’s where friends of Howles are stepping up to the plate. Recognizing the fact that their friend may need financial help, several fundraisers have been scheduled and Howles has signed up for inclusion for donations to a nonprofit which helps transplant plants.

Donations may be made for Howles by going to helphopelive.org. Any funds not used for Howles will be given to other transplant patients.

But locally, people may help by purchasing strombolis and pies being sold for her and eating at Hoss’s Steak and Sea House on April 13. Hoss’s will donate a portion of its proceeds from that day to the cause.

Howles is confident she will receive the support she needs to get through everything. She expects she may have to be off work close to six months. But that’s a condition she accepts.

She wants to live long enough to see her grandchildren — who are 15 months and 5 years old — grow up and get married. She is confident that if all goes as expected, that will happen.

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