Had it not been for Mayo Clinic transplant cardiologist Lisa LeMond, M.D., Laura Lee and Kadie Neuharth could have gone the rest of their lives without knowing each other, let alone how much they have in common. "Heart failure is more common as people age, so there are fewer young people with heart failure," Dr. LeMond tells the Pioneer Press. "To have two young people waiting for heart transplants in the hospital at the same time is relatively uncommon, even for us."
Which is why Dr. LeMond asked Laura, who was recovering from a heart transplant at Mayo Clinic's Arizona campus, if she could introduce her to another "Minnesota girl next door," the paper reports. There, in Mayo's cardiac intensive care unit, Kadie was awaiting a heart transplant of her own. It was an introduction that stemmed not only from Laura and Kadie's closeness in age and personality, but also from what had brought each of them to Mayo Clinic.
Laura's journey began four weeks before the birth of her first child, the paper reports. Breathing and energy problems initially attributed to anxiety or asthma were ultimately traced back to a form of dilated cardiomyopathy. Doctors at Mayo Clinic's Rochester campus told her it likely predated her pregnancy. "They think I had previously had a heart condition that I didn't know about," Laura tells the paper, "and that my pregnancy induced it, exacerbated it and brought it to light." The paper reports that Laura's heart "was enlarged, filled with fluid and leaking" so severely that, at 36, she required a heart transplant.
Kadie's story was similar. "In her late 20s when her symptoms started," Kadie would spend a year going from doctor to doctor before her family convinced her to "just go to Mayo," the paper reports. It was in Rochester that Kadie finally found answers and a diagnosis: restrictive cardiomyopathy. The condition was leading her heart down a path to eventual failure, despite Kadie being just 27.
In Arizona, Laura and Kadie found hope and healing at Mayo Clinic, thanks to Dr. LeMond and Arizona's "historically shorter" transplant wait times. That healing has been accentuated by a new friendship, which has followed them home to Minnesota. There, the self-proclaimed "heart sisters" have been sharing their transplant story through the Minnesota division of the American Heart Association and the Go Red for Women campaign.
Laura tells the paper their goal is to empower more women "to take charge of their heart health" by recognizing and acting on the early warning signs of heart disease. "I call it a hidden disease," Laura says. "From the outside, people don't understand how much you might be struggling inside. Because you look fine."
Laura says having a friend like Kadie by your side can help turn tragedy into triumph. "To have a friend know exactly what you're going through in the most difficult time of your life is truly a gift from God," she tells the paper. "It's amazing that we have each other."
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