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Storm Lake Pilot Tribune: Local News: Heart transplant survivor shares with students (11/11/14)

Tuesday, November 11, 2014 By TESSA MOSER / Pilot-Tribune Staff

A new heart beats inside of Aspen Wiederholt and for the first time she spoke publicly about the transplant she received in May. Sixth graders at Storm Lake Middle School listened to the almost 20 year old tell her story Thursday morning.

After a brief introduction from science teacher Jennifer Wilson, she shared her experience from birth in a “Serious Medicine. Extraordinary Care,” t-shirt from the newly named Nebraska Medicine. She took the microphone, breathed, and stared to tell her story.

“When I was first born my parents knew that something was wrong. My lips were purple. My feet were purple. I didn’t each much and I cried a lot. I barely slept,” Wiederholt said. When she was one day old she was taken by ambulance to a hospital in Colorado Springs where a cardiac catheterization was performed to look inside her heart.

“Something didn’t look right and I had open heart surgery two days later. They diagnosed me with aortic stenosis and cardiac coarctation of the aorta,” Wiederholt said. Her aorta was narrowed and she wasn’t getting proper blood flow. She shared pictures of the x-rays to the students so that they got to see what her heart looked like.

On November 13, 2013 she had surgery to replace her pulmonary valve and surgeons discovered that her mitral valve needed attention. That was corrected and in January she had 23 appointments in three days to see if she was a candidate for a heart transplant.

“Again in February I was admitted to the University of Nebraska Medical Center to give me a peripherally inserted central catheter (PICC) line; to give me a constant heart medication to relax my heart as it pumps; because it was overworking,” Wiederholt said. Her voice brightened even more as she shared slides of her supporters also known as Aspen’s Army.

She had several supporters throughout the process but none as famous as characters in her favorite TV show, Grey’s Anatomy. A medical researcher had learned about Aspen who happened to know the actors.

They sent her signed memorabilia from the show which included a script from the 10th season.

Then she spoke of the day her and her family thought would never come.

“We got the call that we got a match. The original doctor that does my surgeries was on vacation so they had to fly him in. They surprised me in the operating room that he was going to be there. I went into surgery at 2:30 the next morning and I didn’t get out until 11:30 on May 15,” Wiederholt described.

She had time to post a Facebook status after the surgery telling her friends and family how grateful she was. She read it to the room full of students and teachers.

The new heart recipient was out of the hospital by June 6. She went into depth about more operations pertaining to her heart.

“Where the aortic valve is in the heart they replaced my mechanical aortic valve. I’ve had two pacemakers and one with an ICD,” Wiederholt said while holding up a pacemaker the medical staff let her have. She said that an ICD is like a defibrillator where if your heart is out of rhythm or it stops she will get shocked – which happened to her once before.

“After transplant I am now on 20 different medications. I take two medications twice a day, I take one med three times a day. Eleven of my medications are vitamins. I had to do rehab to get my heart stronger that was 32 sessions and it was here at the hospital (Buena Vista Regional Medical Center),” Wiederholt described.

“I would like to thank Mrs. Wilson for letting me come and talk to the sixth grade, Aspen’s Army supporters, and of course my family. I am very blessed at this second chance at life. There is not a second in a day that goes by that I don’t think about my donor family,” Wiederholt said. She did send the donor family a letter and hopes to hear from them in the months ahead.

After she did her presentation Aspen answered questions about the transplant process. She won’t be able to donate any of her organs except possibly her skin and eyes. After transplant she feels warm when she used to feel cold, and a phlebotomist can draw blood on the first try.

She shared cards she used to carry before the transplant. “Some of the cards had a defibrillator. That is because when I went on an airplane I couldn’t go through the medical detector and if I did it would go off. So I had those cards to show them if they thought I had anything bad,” Wiederholt explained. Wilson and Wiederholt shared more information regarding her heart. From the PICC line to blood pressure. She hasn’t experienced any signs of rejection since transplant.

She is now a motivated student herself. She is taking classes at Iowa Central Community College and plans to get into the University of Nebraska Medical Center to work her way towards a career in the health field. According to her journey on Aspen’s Army Facebook page, she is going to going down to UNMC on the 17th for her six month post transplant appointment. She is grateful for her past and is taking life one day at a time. New heart and all.

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