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Mom delivers healthy baby and discovers she needs a heart transplant

Carrie Thornley Fisher holds baby Trevor after his birth in July. She remained hospitalized with heart failure until receiving a transplant in September.

Delivering a strong, healthy baby: A mom from Genesee County got her wish, only to find it was her own health that kept her from bringing her baby home.

"I was taken by surprise. This is nothing I thought would happen," said Carrie Thornley Fisher.

She was pregnant for the second time - happy to soon be delivering a healthy baby brother for her daughter, Brooke. Then, weeks before the delivery, she knew something was very wrong.

"I was short of breath. I couldn't lay flat. I couldn't even go down the stairs," she recalled.

Carrie was experiencing advanced heart failure.

"When she arrived, she was so sick that at the time, the safest thing to do was to deliver the baby and take away some of the stress from her heart," said Dr. Courtney Olson-Chen, who is a high-risk pregnancy specialist at the University of Rochester Medical Center.

On July 11, Carrie delivered a healthy son, Trevor. He would leave the hospital for home with his father and big sister, but without mom, who remained in intensive care. "We started thinking what do we do to treat the heart so it can keep working, and we realized the answer was transplant," said Dr. Hima Vidula, who is a heart transplant specialist at URMC.

Carrie spent much of the next two months hooked to a special machine to provide oxygen to her blood. Staying healthy during that time was excruciating. "Just waiting day by day for a heart. it's a very tough situation when you have a two-year-old and newborn at home," she said while wiping a tear.

Carrie has fought tough odds before. The chemotherapy that helped cure her leukemia ten years ago may have been behind her heart failure now. Doctors at URMC and Wilmot Cancer Center are now treating cancers in ways that lessen potential damage to the heart.

On September 19, doctors would save Carrie's life again with a transplant. Becoming as healthy as her new heart would take another month of intense rehabilitation. "Carrie showed a lot of strength. She went through a lot," said Dr. Vidula. "It's really hard for a new mother to be at the hospital and not be able to be at home with the baby."

February is Heart Awareness Month. Since 2001, URMC has helped 229 people receive new hearts. Carrie's story is a reminder of how organ donation saves lives. There are 9,300 people in New York waiting for organ transplants.

Carrie says she had three very good reasons to work very hard at getting healthy. She also had a lot of support when it was all nearly too much to bear. "The power of the community is huge. People you don't even know are praying for you," she said as she was overcome with emotion. "They really want what's best for you and they don't even know you."

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