Wednesday, February 18, 2009

There is something different about  Teresa Chambors, 29. Brown eyes behind glasses, blond hair and a mid-length pink dress and bright red shoes, it’s hard to pinpoint exactly what it is about the Eastern Michigan University student.

She moves a bit slower than other students. She opts to take the elevator whenever possible. Her hands often shake as she attempts to write. But Chamber still manages to hold onto her 3.7 GPA.

It's what you can't see that makes Chambors different.

 Chambors has someone else's heart beating in her chest. 

At the age of 12, Chambors entered a maze of doctors, EKG's, cardiac echos and heart catherizations. Dr. McDonald Dick, head of Pediatric Cardiology at the University of MIchigan Hospital delivered the devastating news.

Chambors had Polymorphic Ventricular Tachycardia. Her heart would begin to  beat too quickly, often as a result of anxiety. Unlike others hearts, hers could not stop its frantic pace- in many cases, it can lead to sudden cardiac death. 

Chambors also had developed Idiopathic Cardiomyopathy, a condition where the heart has sustained irreparable damage. Because hers had been working overtime, the damage was done and was permanent. 

Chambors said she spent the next 10 years taking drugs to help her ailing heart function.  The condition ruled her life with numerous hospitizations, doctors visit and tests to monitor her health.  Often only able to stay away for five or six hours a day, Chambors said her social life, the pinnacle of most high schoolers' experience, was non-existent.

"High School was hell," says Chambors. 

Eventually the drugs stopped working and Chambors said her heart was getting weaker. She developed blood clots that traveled to her kidneys,  destroying 35 percent of their function- a condition she still has today. Chambors said she was hardly able to get up four stairs without stopping to catch her breath. It was clear, she needed a new heart. 

In July  2001, Chambors was placed on the "list". She joined the other 2000 plus people waiting for hearts in the USA. Many die waiting for their chance at a new life.

On January 26,  2002, Chambors said she got the call from the University of Michigan- a heart that matched had just become available. After seven months and two days waiting, her tiring heart was removed and another placed in her chest.

Chambors was the 498th heart transplant done at the U-M. 

Much later, Chambors said she was told her heart would have probably only lasted another two weeks. 

Chambors would love to meet her donor family. She has sent several letters, thanking them for their gift of life; thus far, she has not heard from the family. 

Chambors says she  considers such people like Dr. David Dyke and the other doctors and nurses on the heart transplant team her friends. She spent more time in the hospital then she did at school for those 10 years and said she forged stronger bonds with them then fellow students.

Mark Brown, a nurse in the new Cardiovascular Center at the U- M remembers Chambors pre- transplant. 

“You get to know them if they are frequent flyers,” says Brown. 

Chambors certainly qualified for that status- unable to actually account for all her days hospitalized, Chambors recalls several stints longer then a month. 

"The worse experience of my life was being on a vent." says Chambors. "It's like feeling you can't breath and you have to suck air through a straw." 

Chambors was on a ventilator two times, eventually getting a tracheostomy.

Chambors considers herself lucky. She says her transplant was considered one of the top 10 matches ever done at the U-M. Her chance of rejection, always a concern, is low. According to Chambors, this also means she has to take less medications daily then if the match was not as good.

As it is, Chambors says her meds still run a staggering $400-$500 a month- with insurance. Without drug coverage, she estimates her costs would quadruple.

Chambors still lives with her parents in Canton, and her "very important dogs."  She loves to talk about her pets, her beading and her card making instead of talking about her health. 

But, there are things that remind her. The medications make her tired. She must get eight to nine hours of sleep a day to keep up her energy. She takes the elevator and walks slowly to conserve her strength. Chambors carries a water bottle all the time as she says she is always thirsty, another side effect of the medications she must take daily for the rest of her life.

Chambers qualifies for federal disability. But she chooses to go to school, which disqualifies her for assistance. That's just fine with her. She says she just wants to blend in with other students and experience college with as much normalcy as possible-something she missed earlier in life.

Chambors was hospitalized last month, missing two weeks of classes which put a damper on her winter semester.  She said she is grateful to her professors for working with her and assigning work over the internet.

Dr. Lisa Bank, her ecology professor at EMU says she is keeping up- better than some of the other students who don’t have the excuse of illness. 

“They (professors) were great- I had my laptop at the hospital and was able to keep up on assignments and emails,” says Chambors. " I think I might keep my A average.”

Contacts :  Teresa Chambors- Phone 330-232-2828

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