With no history of heart problems, Leonnee Pinchen-Martin’s nightmare began when she was pregnant with her first child.
At the age of 21, and 37 weeks pregnant, she was diagnosed with peripartum cardiomyopathy, a rare heart condition which affects women in the final month of pregnancy, or within the first five months after delivery. Left untreated it can be fatal, as the heart muscle isn’t strong enough to pump blood to the body’s vital organs.
Leonnee had her son Levi via emergency caesarean, and was then left living with a left ventricle assist device (LVAD) while waiting for a heart transplant.While her heart pump prolonged her life, simple activities, such as standing up while showering and picking up her little boy, remained out of reach.
Growing weaker and more tired as every month passed, she finally got the call the family had been waiting for when Levi was 11 months old, at Easter in 2012.
Leonnee, her fiancé, her mum and Levi rushed to Sydney’s St Vincent’s Hospital, a six-hour drive away. Leonnee was then taken into surgery.
“There was a dozen or more in the intensive care waiting room,” her mum, Kathy Martin, told The Northern Daily Leader. “We arrived at 10am and they told us at the hospital that this could be a false alarm, but at about 11am, they said it was all go and ‘it’s going to happen’. Leonnee went into theatre about 1pm and we didn’t see her again until midnight. We just all waited.”
Within days of the surgery, Leonnee was feeling much better. The family weren’t told the donor’s identity, but knew it would have been a woman around 22 years of age.
“I’ve asked her how she feels with someone else’s heart and he told me she thought she would feel bad, because they died for her, but she said, ‘They didn’t die for me; they died and helped me’,” Kathy said.
A year later, Leonnee is doing well and loving life with Levi. "I can do all the things people do every day but take for granted," she said, adding that it was the little things – such as driving, seeing friends and taking care of Levi – that added up.
She and her family remain extremely grateful to the anonymous donor.
"I'm really lucky, because a lot of people wait a really long time and some don't make it," she said. “If you do donate, you are literally giving people their lives back."
"Levi has his mum, which is the best thing out of it all. And I still have my baby."
Unfortunately, Leonnee’s fiancé, Joe Stolker, needs a kidney transplant himself in the future, as he's currently on dialysis.
Family and friends have ensured they’re all registered as organ donors, and have discussed their wishes with their loved ones, all too aware of the difference the decision can make on a life.
In 2013, DonateLife Week runs from February 24 to March 3. Learn more about organ and tissue donation, including how to talk to friends and family about the decision, at the DonateLife Week website.