ROCHESTER, Minn. (KTTC) -- It all began as having too big of a heart, and in some respects it still holds true for a young Mankato woman waiting for a new one.
22-year-old Alyssa Sandeen has developed a crowd of thousands of supporters across the globe as she waits in St. Marys Hospital for her third heart, and that is just the beginning of her struggles.
At age 8 she needed a heart transplant because hers was growing too fast. Since then, she has had skin cancer, a kidney transplant, skin graphing, and a heart attack. And her determination to get back on track has created a world of interest.
"The toughest thing is waiting," said Sandeen. Sandeen was waiting inside St. Marys Hospital for a new heart... her third. "They call it cardiomyopathy," she explained. "When I was eight years old my heart was enlarged and getting too big."
Between that transplant and 2010, as a side effect Sandeen would need a kidney transplant from her mother Lisa. Since then, everything seemed okay until this last November. During a routine checkup Ayssa's14 year old heart stopped beating two separate times.
"I had a heart attack. I didn't even know I had a heart attack," said Sandeen. Medical personal performed CPR on Alyssa for two and a half hours before she came around. The side effects of having no circulation almost took away her leg. "60-percent chance of losing my leg... I had. But I didn't lose it and I have feeling in my toes now," she said.
There were other complications during the resuscitation. "The needle broke and spread medication all the way from here down," said Sandeen. Doctors couldn't remove the needle which was supplying life-saving Propofol. "If anything goes wrong I just continue to put in my head that there's another day. I set goals. I always set goals and that usually helps me."
Needing to reach her current goal, she became her own donor. "(Doctors) took pieces on my leg and it's on my chest area now."
"We're nervous even about letting her leave the hospital because we're afraid that she'll have a problem," said Dr. Richard Daly, M.D.
"That's when I decided I should come here and be on the highest status that I can be and stay at the hospital and wait for my heart," said Sandeen.
"She's overcome an awful lot," said Dr. Daly. "She looks great. And strong enough now for another operations and another transplant."
On Monday, her little cousins paid a visit. They crawled up on the bed with Alyssa. "I used to nanny for these two so it's nice to see them again," she said.
"So many people who have never thought about being an organ donor are now choosing to become organ donors because of Alyssa's story," explained Sandeen's Aunt Holly Evans. on Tuesday, Alyssa's Facebook page had more than 8,800 'Likes.'
Among the dozens of well wishes decorating her room, a vase of 100 roses sits near the window. They were given by a complete stranger.
"I don't know if it's a boy or a girl," said Sandeen. "It says a hundred reasons to smile."
It's a gift that makes her feel good. As she wait's for the gift that could make her feel even better. "What I picture about it though is that when I come home and how exciting it's going to be and everyone takes that for granted. And I just want to be home. be around the rest of my dogs and hangout with my family and friends," she said.
When she was 8, Alyssa's first heart came from a 5 year old boy in Virginia who was involved in a car accident. She says it's amazing that if anyone is listed as a donor, when they pass, they have the ability to help at least 8 others.
She's hoping to be one of those eight very soon.
It was a record year for heart transplants in Minnesota with 80 successful operations across the state in 2012. Mayo Clinic performed 38 of them. For more information on organ donation and transfer visit the LifeSource website.
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