A Tale of Two Transplants: Mother and Son
For Andrea Cain, a heart transplant enabled her to return to being a mom and a nurse. But six years after her heart transplant, she got an unwelcome surprise: her 12-year-old son needed one as well.
"Total shock," the Cleveland Heights resident remembers feeling. "I thought, 'how are we going to tell him?'"
Fortunately, Ms. Cain knew first-hand the answers to some very tough questions Marques asked. And she was honest, even though it was hard.
"He always had a positive attitude, and I'm grateful I was here to help him through it," she says.
Her Story Begins
The now 39-year-old mother of three was only 32 at the time of her transplant in 1999. A cardiac care nurse at Cleveland Clinic, she found herself short of breath and exhausted much of the time. She was treated for bronchitis and other upper respiratory conditions, but never for a heart problem.
But in 1997, she was hospitalized at Hillcrest Hospital, a part of Cleveland Clinic, for chest pain. She was diagnosed with viral dilated cardiomyopathy: an enlarged heart.
Two years later, her heart began to fail. She needed a transplant.
She was admitted to the Sydell and Arnold Miller Family Heart & Vascular Institute in May 1999, where she waited for more than three months for a heart to become available. Finally, on August 24, she got her heart.
A mere two weeks later, she was discharged, with energy levels through the roof.
"I didn't realize how tired I was until after the transplant when suddenly I had so much energy," she says. "It made a huge difference in my ability to live everyday normal life."
An Unexpected Twist
Ms. Cain and her family celebrated her renewed vigor, and she worked toward rebuilding her happy home for Marques and her two daughters, Krysten (16) and Noelle (14).
But, in May 2005, Marques was hospitalized with shortness of breath. At Cleveland Clinic, an X-ray revealed Marques' enlarged heart. That's when doctors realized the connection: both he and his mother had Danon's disease, a rare genetic condition.
He could not survive long without a new heart, says Gerard Boyle, MD, a pediatric cardiologist.
With a strength that surprised her, Ms. Cain broke the news to her son. He was placed on the heart transplant waiting list on Aug. 16, 2005.
A Happy Christmas
The holidays were approaching when they got the call that a heart was available. On Dec. 12, 2005, Marques received his new heart. Muhammad Mumtaz, MD, performed the heart transplant. The Cains had just been given the best present of all.
He spent January through March recuperating, and by April 2006, he was back in school. Even though they both will be on medications for the rest of their lives, Ms. Cain says Marques is back to regular teen antics, without any restrictions on his activities.
Her mom once said that only people can limit themselves.
"If you think you are going to be incapacitated, you will be," Ms. Cain explains. "But I wanted my life back. I enjoy nursing and being a mom. That's what I do."
She credits her family with helping her through the experience, as well as Kay Kendall, the cardiac transplant social worker.
"It hurt me thinking that two people had to die so Marques and I could live. But Kay helped me through the pain, and I appreciate the true gift both Marques and I have received," she says.
Sharing the Experience, Again and Again
Now she has particular empathy with the transplant patients she meets as a Cleveland Clinic nurse.
"When I share my story, I know my experience is helping them," she says. "I understand what they are going through."
You can read more about the Cains in an upcoming book by Cleveland Clinic Press: Courageous Hearts - The Inspiring True Story of Mother & Son Transplant Survivors (due out in 2008).