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Woman Recovering After Life-Saving Heart Transplant Doctor Calls ‘One In A Million’

CBS Chicago logoCBS Chicago 11/28/2020 Syndicated Local – CBS Chicago

CHICAGO (CBS) — After eight hours in surgery over Thanksgiving, a Kankakee woman is recovering after she got a new heart. Her case is so unusual doctors say out of the thousands of transplants they do a year, maybe one like this ever happens.

Since Nov. 4, Sonya Ashford waited in hospital rooms night after night, knowing her nights were numbered.

“I’m going to need a heart transplant, if I wanted to keep living,” she said. “It was very scary.

“She probably only had days to live,” said Dr. Valluvan Jeevanandam.

A team of doctors gave Sonya a new heart, and for the first time she was able to hear it beat.

“It does sound better,” she said. “My heart sounds faster. It didn’t sound, it’s weird to say before it sounded gurgly.”

“There’s about 3,200 heart transplants done every year in the United States,” said Jeevanandam.

Jeevanandam, director of the Heart and Vascular Institute at University of Chicago Medicine, said Ashford’s case was unique. The chemistry or makeup of her blood would reject most transplants that could save her life. They needed to find a match and then change the chemistry of her blood to accept a new heart.

“It’s less than on in a million that you would find a donor for her,” Jeevanandam said. “Most programs would have given up, but we use the science with that were familiar with at the University of Chicago that I have developed. That one was actually a miracle to find.” 

Thanksgiving Day a donor was found. Hours later, a team of doctors, nurses and technicians began treating Sonya’s blood and transplanting her new heart — against the odds and her own body’s fight to reject the doctors’ life-saving surgery.

“I feel like I have a new lease on life,” she said. “I feel good. I feel really good. I feel more positive.”

The mother of six children between 18 and 30 now has the added health and motivation to see their milestones for years to come.

“I would love to see some grandkids,” she said.

Doctors will cautiously keep her in the iCU for three or four days. If all goes well she could be out of the hospital in a matter of weeks.

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