Imagine being only 28 years old, full of life, playing sports with friends and not worrying about much, when a massive heart attack strikes.
That's what happened to Drumheller area resident Scott Ouellette. Eight years ago he finished playing ball hockey with friends in Red Deer when he started to feel incredibly winded and sweating more than usual. After the game his girlfriend, now his wife, wondered if he wanted to go to the hospital. He declined the offer, but that decision proved nearly fatal. Later that evening he began to realize he was having a heart attack. All the symptoms were there.
Ouellette says he was rushed to the hospital that night via ambulance, where he was later airlifted by STARS to Calgary.
"Following that heart attack I had to be placed on a ventricular assist device (VAD) and also required a transplant," explained Ouellette.
According to his doctors, the heart attack caused severe damage to the left side of his heart and the aortic valve only opened once every eight beats.
"Which is clearly not enough to run or live," said Ouellette. "That's why I had the machine installed and it basically bypassed the left side of my heart."
"It was virtually an artificial heart. I had a pump body that hung outside my stomach and you could actually see the blood go into the pump and push back out and that sucked it out of the left ventricle and pushed it up to my aorta," he said.
Ouellette was on the VAD for 113 days before a matching heart was found for him. He was listed as 'machine assisted living' which placed him higher on the transplant list.
"It's (an) incredibly exciting and terrifying and guilt-ridden feeling that no one really understands. Clearly going into it I knew somebody would have to die before I could live, but knowing that I couldn't do anything to change what happened to them is what really helps you mentally go on," he stated.
The heart transplant surgery lasted 13 hours in Edmonton. Prior to surgery Ouellette says it can be an emotional time for family.
"I tried not to say goodbye, but you do say goodbye to your family because the odds of you coming through it are good, but they are taking out your heart, so anything can happen," he warned.
Over eight years has passed since that day and Ouellette is in good health. He has to go for annual check ups and rejection of the heart has not been an issue for him providing he takes proper medication.
Ouellette now views everyday as a gift thanks to Kimberly, the girl who passed away and gave him a heart so he could continue his life. He has since become a strong advocate for organ donation.
"The importance we push with awareness is to discuss it beforehand so your family doesn't have to make that decision in the hospital; you've already made that decision for them and you've given them your wishes of what you'd like to have happen," added Ouellette.
There are several ways to become an organ donor. Currently Ouellette is working with a group to get a bill passed to include an organ donation form on tax forms. Potential donors can also sign the donor card when renewing a drivers license at an Alberta Registries office.
To learn more about organ donation click here.
"Most importantly it comes down to your family. They (doctors) will ask your family and no matter what papers you have signed, if your family says no, it will not happen. You really have to tell your family that you want to be an organ donor," concluded Ouellette.
(Photo: Ouellette 1 week after his heart transplant. Photo submitted)