By Robb Murray
---- — It was the call he'd been waiting for.
"Alyssa's the one that called me," said Christopher Sandeen, father Alyssa Sandeen, the Mankato woman who has been hospitalized for months with a failing heart. "It was kind of hard for her to talk. She was so emotional."
Christopher Sandeen said Thursday evening that Alyssa's chest was opened at 7:15 p.m. to begin the transplant surgery, which was expected to take at least six hours.
He expressed gratitude to the donor family, whose identity is unknown. Sandeen said he was told only that the heart "came from our region."
At about noon Thursday, doctors informed Alyssa that a donor heart was available. After a few tests, it was decided they'd prepare her for surgery at St. Marys Hospital in Rochester.
Her father, reached while he was en route to Rochester, said the last few months have seen Alyssa's health get progressively worse. Because her heart function is decreasing, her body is retaining fluid. Also, compartment syndrome in her leg is causing her much pain.
When she was just 8 years old, Sandeen was diagnosed with cardiomyopathy, a weakening of the heart muscle that caused her heart to grow four times its normal size. Doctors at the time said she had less than a 5 percent chance of survival. She likely had a day or so to live when a little boy in Virginia was hit by a truck and died.
The 15 years she's lived with this heart is about the typical life cycle of a transplant heart. As it has weakened, Sandeen has been on the list for a second transplant heart. She's lived in the hospital since November.
Christopher Sandeen said that when Alyssa called, he reminded her that even when people are told they've been offered a heart, complications can arise at the last minute to nullify a joyous occasion.
"I reminded her of that possibility. I didn't want her to get her hopes up too high," he said. "And she said, 'Yeah, I've been thinking about that.'"
In an interview in March with The Free Press, Sandeen said she has mixed feelings about giving up the heart that saved her life when she was little.
"I almost want to keep the heart. I know that sounds so bad. And I know I can’t,” she'd said in March. “But at least he’ll get his heart back.”