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A Climb for Chloe

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March 4, 2010

Chicago -

Lifesaving heart transplant gives Northwestern Memorial Hospital patient second chance

Some of the nearly 4,000 participants dashed up the 94 flights of stairs for fun. Some to satisfy their competitive spirit. Melissa Simon did the climb to honor Chloe. When Melissa reached the top of the John Hancock Building last Sunday, Chloe’s parents were on hand to congratulate the 29-year-old, and to listen to her heart. For it was their decision to donate their daughter’s organs that gave Melissa a new lease on life, because Chloe’s heart now beats in her chest.    

"She truly saved my life and that's why I'm doing this for her," said Melissa, who underwent  heart transplant surgery June 6, 2007, at Northwestern Memorial Hospital. The February weekend marked the first time she was able to express her gratitude to the family in person. Chloe was just 14 when she died, the same age Melissa was when she was first diagnosed with heart disease.

Following her diagnosis Melissa spent months undergoing intense cardiac rehabilitation, which proved successful, and she was able to continue on with her life. She danced the lead role in her high school’s ballet. She went to college. She started her professional career in Chicago and married her college sweetheart.

But at age 26 Melissa’s heart problems, which had faded into the background since her rehabilitation 13 years prior, once again became front and center. She was plagued with fatigue so severe she couldn’t carry groceries or even muster the strength to brush her own teeth.

Doctors at Northwestern Memorial’s Bluhm Cardiovascular Institute diagnosed her with a leaky heart valve. “It quickly got to the point where all I could do was lie there in the hospital bed,” said Melissa. “Every day was a struggle to survive until the next day.”

Doctors performed surgery to fix the valve, but explained there was a chance her body might be too weak to handle it and may need a heart transplant. In the weeks following, it became increasingly apparent this was the case. Melissa joined the more than 1,000 people on the United Network for Organ Sharing (UNOS) list waiting for a heart transplant.

The grave nature of Melissa’s condition meant she had high priority status on the waiting list, and a few weeks later doctors delivered the good news that they had found her a new heart.

“We were so thankful that it was our turn to start life, because that’s really what happened after my transplant,” said Melissa.

Edwin C. McGee Jr., MD, cardiac surgeon and the surgical director of heart transplantation and mechanical assistance at the Bluhm Cardiovascular Institute, performed Melissa’s surgery.

“It’s wonderful to see a transplant patient go so far and enjoy such a full and active life following surgery,” he said. “Patients like Melissa make all the years of training and all the sleepless nights worth it. She is a very special person.”

In total Chloe’s organs saved the lives of five people. Melissa remains committed to educating people about the importance of organ donation.

“I’m trying to show people through my story how grateful the people on the receiving end are to those who have donated,” said Melissa. “This new heart has given me a life I never imagined possible.”

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Last UpdateFebruary 8, 2011