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Heart Month: Thriving and surviving after cancer, heart transplant

Data pix.
SEATTLE, Wash.,-- At just 22 years old, a Burlington woman was diagnosed with cancer.

Jessica Morton's doctors discovered her cancer because of her pain, “My leg hurt one day, just kind of out of the blue.”

They found a 3-inch tumor in her upper femur.

“It felt like not real, this can’t be happening to me, I mean you hear about people who get cancer diagnosis and you’re like, oh that’s whoever… but, it was me.”

Jessica underwent her first 4 chemotherapy treatments in her battle with Ewing Sarcoma and had 5 inches of her bone in her leg removed. About a year after the surgery to remove the tumor,  things took another turn.

“I woke up and my blood pressure had tanked, my poor little heart was struggling to stay alive.”

Jessica’s heart sustained damage from the chemotherapy drugs. Her doctor recommended heart failure medication, but it didn't help, “It ended up that my heart was getting worse like by the day... I think we need to do the surgical route, which is this thing called an L-VAD, a left ventricle assist device... It would take the blood from the left side of your heart after it came from the right side, spun it through, continuously, through here and then up into your aorta and then through the rest of your body.”

When it was time to see if her heart had gained strength with the help of the left ventricle assist device. The surgery to remove the device got complicated.

“This always chokes me up… My sister-in-law you know being pregnant I had a really rough time on one of my surgeries and I ended up dying twice on the table, and I really should not have survived that but, my little nephew was gonna be born, and I had to meet him.”

Jessica was in a medically induced coma for 20 days, and was recovering in the hospital for 2 and a half months.

“My extended family and my really close friends, were called to come say goodbye.”

Jessica’s surgery to remove the L-VAD was unsuccessful, “It was very disappointing, I was pretty upset, mad even that my body didn’t cooperate.”

So that meant she would be stuck with it for a while longer.

“I thought it was gonna be good and I was gonna be able to move on and be wireless!”

Jessica lived with her L-VAD for 2,056 days… but who’s counting? Then in February of 2017… a match.

“Because he chose to be a donor and because we were a match, I have a life and it’s incredible.”

Once she recovered, she wasn’t letting another day pass without gratitude, “It’s a gift, It’s weird when I say my heart because it used to be someone else’s, It’s ours now I guess you could say."

Jessica is grateful for her life, and for some else's heart.

“It’s a gift, It’s weird when I say my heart because it used to be someone else’s, It’s ours now I guess you could say.”

So even though her heart stopped several times, Jessica isn't stopping anytime soon.

“I don’t want people to have to have something in their life come up like I did on my health journey, in order to realize how precious life is...I wish I could rub it off that feeling, you know you wake up and you’re like another day, yes, I’m on the good side and get to keep going, and for me it’s keep passing on hope.”

Jessica will be on immune suppressants for the rest of her life to protect her body from rejecting her new heart. She says her alarm goes off every  morning saying "wake up and shine." She says she wants to be a positive example of how every day is a gift, and another chance to keep going.
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