For 33-year-old Tara Brigham of Jacksonville, Florida, living with a heart condition since birth wasn't something that was going to get in the way of living an active normal life. In fact, she says the heart transplant she received six years ago as a result of her condition has made her life even more fulfilling.
A Minnesota native, Tara was diagnosed with enlargement of the heart during a routine checkup when she was 1 year old. While she had not had any symptoms of a heart problem since birth, the enlargement was significant enough that her physician at Mayo Clinic's Rochester campus suggested that a biopsy of her heart should be done right away. She was diagnosed with hypertrophic cardiomyopathy, a disease in which the heart muscle becomes abnormally thick. The thickened heart muscle can make it harder for the heart to pump blood throughout the body to vital organs.
Tara's heart was monitored closely by her doctors at Mayo Clinic and later a hypertrophic cardiomyopathy specialist at the University of Minnesota. Since Tara was an active, healthy child otherwise, and what was known about her condition in children was limited, she was not put on medication, but doctors advised that she avoid strenuous activities.
Following these guidelines, Tara led a normal life without any real complications. That changed at age 16, when she collapsed at a school event. Tara went into ventricular fibrillation and was taken to the hospital where an automated external defibrillator, or AED, was used to restore her normal heart rhythm. It was a sign that her heart condition was worsening. Eventually, she had an implantable cardioverter defibrillator implanted to provide an immediate treatment for any future episode.
"The doctors and nurses are always there to encourage me and ask how I'm doing. They are not only my caregivers, but are my Mayo co-workers and in many ways my extended family." - Tara Brigham
Despite the scare and a challenging recovery, Tara resumed her life, finishing high school, attending college and graduate school, and getting married. Over time, she became increasingly symptomatic as her heart failure worsened, and Minnesota winters were especially difficult.
When Tara's in-laws moved to Florida, she and her husband decided to make the move too. There, Tara was evaluated at Mayo Clinic's Florida campus. Her physician, Daniel Yip, M.D., suggested she be listed for a heart transplant due to her decreasing heart function. Unfortunately, her heart failure was progressing rapidly, and in June 2009, she received a ventricular assist device. The device allowed Tara to recover and be healthy enough to be put on the heart transplant list. And on Aug. 24, 2009, Tara got the call that a donor heart was available for her.
Tara is grateful that her transplant has enabled her to experience so much more of her life. She is currently a medical librarian at Mayo Clinic's Florida campus, and she has been healthy and has led a fairly normal life in the six years since her transplant.
"Since my transplant, I have been able to meet my five nephews and three nieces, and become godmother to three of them," Tara says. "I also was able to see my Dad beat cancer. I've been able to grow in my profession and meet so many wonderfully bright people. And I've been able to advocate for organ donation awareness. None of this would have happened without my donor and the transplant I was able to receive."
Tara also credits her care team at Mayo Clinic for their tremendous support.
"Whenever I go to my regular post-transplant appointments, the doctors and nurses are always there to encourage me and ask how I'm doing," she says. "They are not only my caregivers, but are my Mayo co-workers and in many ways my extended family."