Donna Ramusack has been a registered nurse for 50 years, but none of her training prepared her for medical challenges she faced in her own family. The first came when her daughter, Leslie, was diagnosed with dilated cardiomyopathy and learned she needed a heart transplant to live. “Her diagnosis sent shockwaves throughout our family,” Donna says. “Could this have been prevented? Would her name ever make it off the transplant list?”
They also wondered if other family members would face similar fates. Leslie was fortunate because, after being listed with a major transplant center, she had to wait only two months to receive her heart transplant on April 1, 2001. After her daughter’s recovery, Donna said she thought her family had put the worst of the disease behind them. “But I began to experience the same symptoms of breathing difficulties and fainting spells that I had watched my daughter battle,” Donna says.
After a complete workup at a transplant center, Donna was told that, in addition to a new heart, she also needed a kidney transplant. “I was fortunate to receive transplants after seven days on the transplant list,” she says. They both came from the same donor. It was June 17, 2004, only three years after her daughter’s surgery.
“I feel profound gratitude to my donor’s family,” Donna says. “I know that a difficult and emotional decision was made by the families for both of us.” Just eight days after surgery, Donna was discharged to begin rehab. “I credit my stellar surgical team and the nurses for providing exceptional care and helping to expedite my recovery process,” she says. “I also had tremendous support from my husband and family.”
Donna now makes the most out of every moment and never takes the things that life has to offer for granted. “A near-death experience makes you worry less about the little things and focus on the things that are important,” she says. “Life gives you may challenges, and you can either go down in defeat or rise up in victory. My daughter and I chose the latter.”
Donna is now an Advocates for Hope volunteer with Gift of Hope. She is promoting organ and tissue donation at the hospital where she works and at churches, schools and other organizations. “I find there are still many misconceptions about donation, and I hope to calm those fears,” she says. “I wouldn’t be here today if it wasn’t for that gift of life made by my donor family 10 years ago.”