“I’m lucky to be alive. Two open heart surgeries when I was just 16. But blood donors were there. They helped save my leg once—and twice saved my life!” —Amy Yang
Looking forward to catching up with friends, cheerleading competitions, and playing competitive tennis, Amy Yang was a typical 16-year old high school student. Little did she know that a routine annual physical, as she was preparing for her sophomore year, was going to be life-changing and set the tone for the year to come: no sports, two open heart surgeries, and three blood transfusions.
Since birth, Amy had been successfully living with Ebstein’s anomaly, a rare congenital heart malformation that can lead to an enlarged heart or heart failure. Fortunately, Amy’s condition had not prevented her from living a full and active life. That is until a defective valve was discovered, causing the right side of her heart to become enlarged.
With open heart surgery scheduled for December, Amy sat on the sidelines and watched her fellow cheerleaders as summer slowly turned into fall. A week after her 16th birthday, she underwent surgery to repair the valve and create a new pathway for blood to flow to her heart. “My surgery was originally scheduled for just a few hours,” Amy remembers. “Instead it lasted 10 hours—a lot longer than anyone thought! And I needed several units of blood just to get through it.”
Recovery was expected to take six to eight weeks. “I returned to school and started easing back into my daily activities,” Amy said. “Then, just when I thought life was returning to normal, I went into cardiac arrest and collapsed.” Amy was having a heart attack.
Just three months after her first surgery, Amy was rushed back to the hospital and placed on an extracorporeal membrane oxygenation (ECMO) machine—a heart and lung machine that circulates blood outside the body, giving her lungs time to relax. As she lay fighting for her life, her family was presented with two possible options: put her on the heart transplant list and wait for the right donor, or try to repair her own heart. Amy’s family chose the latter. But before she could undergo a second surgery, an artery in her leg tore open as the ECMO machine was being removed. “Thankfully, the blood I needed from generous volunteer donors was again available, because I unexpectedly needed another blood transfusion as doctors performed an emergency procedure to relieve the pressure and improve the blood flow.” Once Amy’s leg became stable, doctors went in to repair her heart—for a second time. During surgery to insert a pacemaker in Amy’s heart, she received more blood.
Amy was told the surgery was a success, and this time she could feel it. After a year of physical therapy, her heart had made a full recovery and she was back to being active. And to honor those blood donors who so generously gave to her, and to make sure that a safe and stable supply of blood is also available for others, Amy stepped up to coordinate blood drives at her high school, Park Center Senior High.
“I’m truly thankful to be alive,” Amy says. “I know I wouldn’t be here today without the blood I received from volunteer donors. It is blood donors that gave me hope and the chance of living a happy life.”
Find out more about how you can help save the lives of infants, children, and adults through blood donation. Learn more at About Blood.
February is American Heart Month
Donate blood in honor of Amy and other cardiac patients in need.