Patient Aleta Whitten
For heart transplant patient Aleta Whitten, going to the grocery store and not getting tired is wonderful. She spent 34 years of her life with a bad heart. Now she has her own apartment, attends college and wants to get her driver’s license.
Living with a bad heart was a struggle
Aleta always had to be careful with her health. “It was easy to catch colds, and I missed school a lot,” she said. When Aleta was in fifth grade, her doctor said she could no longer go to school.
“There were no home tutors, so I just read all I could,” Aleta said. “When I was 16, I earned my GED on the first try.”
Unfortunately, Aleta’s heart grew worse. “I had to take steroids – one time they took 30 pounds of fluid out of my belly,” she said. “It wasn’t great, but I learned over the years to do what you’ve got to do.”
Aleta received a new heart
In 2006, Aleta received a pacemaker and her name was placed on the transplant list. Finally, on July 21, 2007, she got her new heart.
“When I woke up the next morning, I felt like I’d been hit by a bus,” Aleta said, “but then I started feeling better. I could immediately tell something was different.”
Aleta was in the hospital about two months. “My poor body was worn out,” she said. “At one point, my kidneys shut down. I was on dialysis for five months.”
Still, she kept fighting. “I did whatever the doctors told me to do. For a long time after surgery I wore a mask and stayed away from crowds. But I kept improving.”
“Now I feel like I can do anything.”
Feeling good is no small thing to Aleta. “I’ve made a lot of friends and now can actually do stuff. Last August I finally got to see the beach!”
Dr. Vinay Thohan, Aleta’s doctor, is the medical director of the Advanced Cardiac Care and Heart Transplant Program at Wake Forest Baptist. Aleta is amazing, after all she has been through, Dr. Thohan said. At one point, her heart was failing so badly that she almost did not make the transplant list, which currently has about 115 patients listed for transplantation.
“Now I go every three months for labs and every six months to see Dr. Thohan,” Aleta said. “He told me I’m doing fantastic,” she said. “I can even have kids. I lived for 34 years without a good heart. Now I feel like I can do anything.”