As a former daycare owner, nurse aide and rehabilitation assistant, Lucy Bailey dedicated her life to caring for others, and she didn’t let her heart and kidney transplant stop her. The 63-year-old Milwaukee native connects with patients considering or waiting for a transplant and supports them through the process as a volunteer in the peer-to-peer Mentor Program at Froedtert Hospital.
“I provide encouragement because I went through it,” Lucy said.
Lucy’s help is invaluable for patients seen in the Comprehensive Heart Failure and Transplant Program because she can provide a perspective to patients that medical professionals can’t.
“People go through a lot of fear associated with a transplant,” said cardiologist Nunzio Gaglianello, MD. “When you’re faced with mortality, the emotional connection and empathy from a patient who has been through the surgery is just something incomparable.”
Dr. Gaglianello was on Lucy’s care team when she was ill. Now, he sees Lucy a couple of times a year, which is routine for a patient with no complications, three years post-transplant.
“She’s so full of life,” Dr. Gaglianello said.
Lucy will never forget a painful cough she got in July 2012, which ultimately led her to go to the emergency room, where she was diagnosed with congestive heart failure.
“It hurt me so bad,” Lucy said. “It was a deep cough in my chest and in my stomach. I couldn’t handle the pain.”
Lucy, who was 58 at the time, received a pacemaker, a battery-powered device placed under the skin to control abnormal heart rhythms.
“I was in and out of the hospital,” she said. “I knew something was really wrong with me.”
The pacemaker was not enough. A few months later her doctor told her she needed a heart transplant. Lucy chose to come to Froedtert Hospital and was admitted to the Intensive Care Unit in December 2012. Her heart and kidneys were failing, and she was placed on the national organ transplant waiting list for both organs.
“A lot of people, including some of my family members, thought I was going to pass away,” Lucy said. “I told them, 'No way, I am going to live.'”
Lucy’s doctors decided she would benefit from a left ventricular assist device (LVAD) instead of the pacemaker. Ventricular assist devices are surgically implanted mechanical pumps that work outside the body and are often used as a bridge to transplant. The LVAD helped Lucy’s heart continue to pump for 16 months. In July 2014, Lucy became Froedtert Hospital’s first patient to have a simultaneous heart and kidney transplant.
“This was a unique situation,” Dr. Gaglianello said. “You have multiple disciplines from multiple fields, in Lucy’s case, heart and kidney transplant surgeons, to perform her dual organ transplant.”
Lucy found out she was going into surgery on her sister’s birthday. She had already wished her a happy birthday but called a second time.
“‘Guess what? I have got the best birthday gift ever for you. I am getting my heart and kidney transplant today,’” Lucy said to her sister.
Since her transplant, Lucy has focused on getting stronger and continues to help others. She goes to the gym, volunteers at her church and mentors patients preparing for heart or kidney transplants. She says mentoring is the least she can do after what her doctors did for her.
“I was blessed to choose them,” Lucy said. “If you have something wrong with you, Froedtert Hospital’s doctors will know what to do.”
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