Transplant anniversary- Marie Larner marks 25 years after heart transplant
Without a heart transplant, Marie Larner, who was in heart failure and suffered five heart attacks, would likely have died more than two decades ago.
“I would have been long gone,” Larner told our partners at the Herald News.
Instead, Larner, 81, got to know her granddaughters as they grew up and saw the birth of three great-grandsons.
“It was worth it,” Larner said.
Larner was treated recently to a 25th anniversary heart transplant party. She received her gift of life at Brigham & Women’s Hospital in 1989. She was the first in this area to receive a heart transplant.
At the time, Brigham & Women’s had started its transplant program just five years prior, performing the first heart transplant in New England. It celebrated its 500th heart transplantation in 2005.
Larner was 56 years old when she developed a sudden cough that wouldn’t go away. She learned that a virus had enlarged her heart to three times its size and put her into heart failure. Larner had a hard time breathing and talking. Five heart attacks landed Larner in critical condition and on the list for a heart transplant.
“That’s what made me decide to go through with this,” Larner said. “I was fortunate that it came through fast. I got in just in time.”
Larner’s daughter Debra DeCosta said her mother never had any heart problems prior to the cough.
“She was very healthy,” DeCosta said. “I don’t remember her ever being sick.”
Larner enjoyed walking for exercise and worked at Howard Johnson.
“It hit me all at once,” Larner said.
Following her heart transplant, Larner began walking every day and riding a stationary bike. Her energy was restored and she started to feel “like my former self.”
Larner lives with her daughter and son-in-law, Michael DeCosta. The family has helped each other in numerous ways over the last two decades. The DeCostas took care of Larner when she was sick. In turn, Larner was home to watch her granddaughters when they were children. She helped get them off to school and was there when they came home.
“I was very fortunate to have them,” Larner said. “I couldn’t do it alone.”
“We’ve helped each other,” DeCosta said.
Since her heart transplant, Larner has suffered other health problems. She had a pacemaker implanted in 1998, and then replaced in 2004 and this year. Larner underwent a double bypass in 2001. She was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2002, and again in 2009. She is celebrating five years of being cancer free.
Currently, Larner suffers from damaged heart valves. DeCosta said her mother is not strong enough for another surgery. Her health is now being managed with diet, including sodium and fluid restrictions.
“I feel good,” Larner said.
Today, Larner’s granddaughters — one is a nurse — care for her by maintaining prescriptions and accompanying her to doctor’s appointments.
“They’re as close to her as they are to me,” DeCosta said. “They come here to care for her. It’s come full circle.”
Larner is hoping that her story will encourage more people to become donors, and extend the gift of life to others whose lives might otherwise be cut short.
More than 120,000 Americans are waiting for lifesaving organ transplants and donated tissues, according to the New England Organ Bank’s website. On average, 17 people die every day nationwide while they are waiting for organ transplants.
“There are not enough donors,” Larner said. “I wish more people would donate. They really don’t realize how it can help.”
How do I become an organ and tissue donor?
When you apply for a Massachusetts driver’s license or identification card at the Registry of Motor Vehicles, check the “yes” box indicating you want to become an organ and tissue donor. You will be entered into the Massachusetts Donor Registry, which is legal consent for your donation. You should share your decision with family and friends so they are aware of your wishes.
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