PENDLETON, Ore. (AP) — Just four months after she was rushed to Ohio for emergency heart surgery, Susie Arroyo feels better than she has in years.
In March, Cincinnati Children's Hospital placed a device in Arroyo's left ventricle that helps it pump blood to the rest of her body. She was the first woman and only second person with her form of muscular dystrophy to receive the device.
Arroyo, 23, lived with a heart condition caused by muscular dystrophy since she was 11. She had suffered with a low-functioning heart for four years until December, when as she was already planning for a heart transplant, her heart function declined so much she needed an immediate fix to survive.
Arroyo arrived at the hospital — the only one in the country that performs LVAC surgeries on muscular dystrophy patients — just in time on Feb. 22.
"From what they were saying, I didn't have a week left (to live) from the day I got there," she said. Arroyo nearly died the night before her surgery when she had an arrhythmia that sent her heart soaring to over 200 beats per minute.
"It just couldn't do its job anymore," Arroyo said.
Doctors gave Arroyo a sedative, and she awoke two days later after a successful surgery.
Since returning to Pendleton in mid-May, Arroyo has kept busy with physical and occupational therapy at the Roundup Athletic Club, an online LVAC patient support group, and giving moral support to another muscular dystrophy patient scheduled for similar surgery in July.
Arroyo must wait six months to start planning for a heart transplant. LVACs last two to five years before they need replacing, but Arroyo does not want to wait until another life-or-death situation for her next procedure.
Once she is on the national waitlist, Arroyo will move to Cincinnati until she finds a donor. Since she used the funds raised by a bevy of community members at events like a spaghetti dinner at Blue Mountain Community College on the LVAC surgery, Arroyo still needs to raise at least $150,000 for a transplant.
Shaindel Beers, a BMCC professor who helped coordinate the spaghetti dinner, said she plans to hold another fundraiser for Arroyo.
But for now, the young survivor is focused on living in the present. She expects to continue working toward an education degree at BMCC in the fall. That wasn't possible just months ago.
While her struggle for a stronger heart may not be over, she is thankful today to be alive.
"It was like an answer to a prayer," Arroyo said.