Waiting for a heart, with hope

By The Health News Team | October 7, 2022
Norma Palacios at Sharp Memorial Hospital

Norma Palacios has been waiting for a heart transplant at Sharp Memorial Hospital since June 2022.

On an ordinary day in May, Norma Palacios suddenly felt out of breath and dizzy. Her vision grew blurry and her heart started to race. She then temporarily lost vision in her left eye. Terrified, she called 911 and went to Sharp Memorial Hospital’s emergency room.

“I thought I would just get some medicine and go home,” says Norma, 33, a makeup artist.

Instead, Norma stayed at Sharp Memorial for two weeks and underwent several tests, including an echocardiogram, which examines the heart’s chambers and valves. She also had an X-ray and the results showed signs of heart failure.

A shocking diagnosis
Norma was diagnosed with nonischemic cardiomyopathy, a condition that hinders the heart from adequately pumping blood. Though shocked after learning the news, Norma recalls first feeling heart palpitations at 17, but she thought she was fine at the time.

“A regular heart’s ejection fraction — which relates to the amount of blood that the heart pumps to the rest of the body with each beat — is about 55% to 65%,” says Dr. Hirsch Mehta, a Sharp Community Medical Group cardiologist affiliated with Sharp Memorial. “Norma’s ejection fraction was only 10%.”

Norma’s treatment options included receiving a left ventricular assist device (LVAD) — which helps the heart’s bottom left chamber pump blood — or going on the national waiting list for a heart transplant.

“After careful consideration and consulting with my Sharp care team, I didn’t want to risk possibly getting sicker,” she says. “My hope is for a long-term chance of survival, which involves getting a heart transplant.”

Waiting for the gift of life
Norma was temporarily discharged from the ER with a defibrillator vest that monitored her heart. It could also jolt her with electrical treatment if she were at risk of cardiac arrest. After a few weeks, she returned to Sharp Memorial to be admitted.

Since late June, Norma has been waiting to receive a new heart. Due to her condition, she must remain in the hospital for her Sharp care team to administer medication via intravenous (IV) injections.

“There were definitely times when I was sad and thinking about my mortality,” says Norma.

However, she decided not to stay dejected. She started documenting her experience on social media and altering her clothes to accommodate the ports that monitor her heart and deliver medication. With the help of her mother and the Sharp care team, Norma also enjoyed a fun date with her girlfriend at Sharp Memorial’s Jade Garden.

“My nurses were so kind, and I was able to have a beautiful date with fake flowers and champagne glasses,” she says. “I’m so thankful for the support I receive from my loved ones, social media and Sharp.”

Norma Palacios at Sharp Memorial Hospital's Jade Garden

With the help of her mother and nurses, Norma Palacios got to enjoy a date with her girlfriend at Sharp Memorial Hospital’s Jade Garden.

A positive attitude makes a difference
Kristi Ortiz, RN, manager of the Cardiac Transplant and Heart Failure Program at Sharp Memorial, says seeing Norma share her story and educate viewers about her condition on social media has been inspiring.

“Norma has a lot of courage, and her positive outlook is amazing,” Ortiz says.

Dr. Mehta agrees. “Norma is a pleasure to work with,” he says. “She is delightful and takes an active role in her care. I’m excited for her future.”

Since dedicating herself to making her hospital stay as positive as possible, Norma has also participated in Arts for Healing sessions led by board-certified art therapists to support her mental well-being.

“I don’t want to look back later at this period of my life and remember that I was sad,” she says. “I want to make an effort to be happy, and I’m grateful that Sharp cares not only about my physical health, but my mental health as well.”

Although Norma and her Sharp care team don’t know exactly why she developed her heart condition, Norma has since adopted more a positive perspective.

“I tell myself that it’s OK to be scared,” she says. “I have bad days, but I decide to be happy. I’m more patient now and appreciating things that I haven’t before.”

Learn more about heart and vascular care at Sharp; get the latest health and wellness news, trends and patient stories from Sharp Health News.

For the news media: To talk with Dr. Mehta or Kristi Ortiz about this story, contact Erica Carlson, senior public relations specialist, at erica.carlson@sharp.com.

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