It's been an amazing year for Maria Valadez.
In April 2015 — with a damaged heart pumping only 23 percent of the blood she needed — Valadez became the first person on the West Coast to receive a new, mechanical heart pump at Sharp Memorial Hospital.
At that time, she joined only a handful of people across the nation implanted with the HeartMate III Left Ventricular Assist Device (LVAD) as part of a clinical trial. LVADs keep patients with advanced heart failure alive by supplementing the pumping function of their weak hearts. This newest version is designed to be safer and more patient-friendly.
Less than a year later, she got a call that would further change her life — a donor heart was available. On Jan. 16, she became the 402nd person to receive a heart transplant at Sharp Memorial.
"Until Sharp, I didn't have an answer for so many years," Valadez says about her declining health over the last decade. "And then for me to get my heart so fast, I was like, 'Wow, that was quick.' I'm so grateful."
Both her LVAD and transplant surgeries were performed by Dr. Rob Adamson, medical director of the cardiac transplant program at Sharp Memorial Hospital. He says that the LVAD served as an important "bridge" for Valadez to be healthy enough for a transplant.
"The LVAD restored blood flow to her body, allowing her kidneys to work better, her lungs to work better," Adamson says. "It not only kept her alive, it rejuvenated her."
With the LVAD pump in place, Maria, 58, was able to be more active with her four children and six grandchildren. She lost weight, allowing doctors to match her with the donor heart, which may have been too small for her frame before the LVAD was implanted.
Valadez, whose LVAD story was featured in Sharp HealthCare's documentary, "Stories of The Sharp Experience," says she's been stopped at the grocery store, restaurants and even Target by viewers who recognized her.
"A few weeks after the transplant, we went out to dinner and our waitress just flipped out," Valadez says. "She said, 'I've been praying for you and praying for you, and look, you're here with a new heart.' It was incredible."
These days, Valadez is concentrating on spending time with family. She hopes to plan a trip to a local theme park with all of her children and grandchildren.
"I have nothing bad to say about the journey the Lord took me on to get a heart," Valadez says. "I have nothing to complain about. I'm so blessed."
Learn more about heart and vascular care at Sharp.