The Life-Saving Power of Transplantation and the Need for Further Transplant Innovations
Regina Armstrong, a 32-year heart transplant recipient and a recent kidney transplant recipient, is a One Legacy Ambassador and came to One Lambda to share her transplant journey.
When Regina was twelve years old, she became sick with Influenza A that caused cardiomyopathy. The illness was sudden and life-threatening, necessitating an immediate transplant for her survival. A week later, she received a heart from a sixteen-year-old deceased donor. The heart was not supposed to be compatible. Clinicians hoped this donor heart would allow Regina to live long enough to receive a second heart once a better match was found.
Today, thirty-two years later, Regina still has the same heart; doctors say the heart is very healthy. Due to complications from the anesthesia and other drugs, Regina did lose most of her hearing shortly after the surgery. She became very fluent in lip-reading and now has a cochlear implant.
"The heart unfortunately was not supposed to be compatible. It was to be given to me long enough to find another heart... 32 years later, I'm standing here talking... I lost 90% of my hearing due to the anesthesia and the Gentamicin."
Regina Armstrong | Heart and Kidney Transplant Patient
Regina’s transplant patient story goes beyond her own medical experience. After an accident, her beloved husband became the fourth hand transplant recipient in the United States; unfortunately, he also became the first to experience rejection with a hand transplant.
“The medications we take are very, very harsh on our bodies,” Regina said. Due to the many drugs she takes to prevent rejection, her kidney function became to decline in recent years. Regina began to explore the possibility of a kidney transplant with her doctors and, within two weeks, received a kidney transplant. The donor, like Regina herself, had Hepatitis C, which increased the risk associated with the transplant. Today, a year after the procedure, Regina is cured of Hepatitis C.
Despite the challenges of life as a transplant, Regina has thrived. She has defied medical odds by becoming a mom and now devotes her time to advocating for organ donation with organizations like OneLegacy. She continues to worry that the high dosage of powerful drugs she takes every day will impact the health of her other organs, but she remains hopeful. “I don’t let anything stop me and I never have,” she said. “I’ve always been very spontaneous and always just go with the flow. And I think with transplants, that’s all you can really do is just keep going. Don’t let the sickness get to you.”
Regina’s story demonstrates both the life-saving power of transplantation and the need for further innovation in patient care. While the science done by transplant professionals, including those at the Transplant Diagnostics Division of Thermo Fisher Scientific, certainly saves lives, Regina’s struggles and triumphs prove that there is still much work yet to be done to improve the lives of recipients like her and her husband.