Violet Retzlaff, of Shawano, Wis., always put those around her first. As a provider for her family, caregiver, mother to three children, grandmother to five children and great-grandmother to five more, she is a busy woman. She didn’t want heart failure to stop her.
For 22 years, Violet managed her condition with medication, exercise and a heart-healthy diet. But at the age of 68, Violet’s symptoms became serious. She was short of breath, always fatigued and rapidly gaining weight. She needed a new heart.
“I had been seeing my cardiologist in Appleton for a few years, and it just got to the point where there was nothing more he could do to help,” Violet said. “I asked him what he would do if he were me, and he said, ‘I would get a second opinion.’”
Worth a Second Opinion
In February 2017, Violet’s doctor referred her to the Froedtert & MCW Comprehensive Heart Failure and Transplant Program. During Violet’s appointment, the team decided she should be admitted immediately.
The Comprehensive Heart Failure and Transplant Program is made up of specialists from many different disciplines, including advanced heart failure and transplant cardiologists and cardiothoracic surgeons. The team who treated Violet included Nunzio Gaglianello, MD, an advanced heart failure and transplant cardiologists.
Violet was listed for a heart transplant in March 2017. She was discharged from the hospital and was able to wait for a donor heart at home.
Waiting for a Heart Donor
Violet waited only three months before finding a match. During that time, the team managed Violet's condition with medication and monitored her status to make her an optimal transplant candidate. She knew she was extremely lucky, as the wait time for a donor heart in Wisconsin can be anywhere from three months to three years.
“My phone rang at 5:30 a.m.,” Violet said. “My daughter and I jumped into the car and drove from Shawano to Froedtert Hospital.”
Experienced Heart Transplant Surgeons
Violet’s heart transplant was performed on June 21, 2017, by a team of cardiothoracic surgeons including Lyle Joyce, MD. She was discharged from Froedtert Hospital six days later.
Violet says she expected to feel pain after the surgery but didn’t.
“The morning after my transplant, I had breakfast in a chair and by the afternoon, I was walking down the hall,” Violet said. “I’ll never forget all of the doctors and all of the nurses who helped me through this. I may not remember everyone’s name, but they saved me.”
There was another person Violet wanted to thank — her donor. She decided to write a thank you letter to the person’s family.
“It took me a long time, and for a while, I just sat there crying,” she said. “There is no card in any store that says anything close to the thank you they need. I said, ‘I am writing this from within my heart, your heart, your family member’s heart. Thank you.’”
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