The Free Press, Mankato, MN

Local News

March 23, 2013

For Alyssa Sandeen, waiting is the heart of the matter

ROCHESTER — Of course she wants a new heart. She needs a new heart. To continue living the extraordinary life of Alyssa Sandeen, a new heart is a requirement.

Still ...

The one she has now is special. The one she has now came to her at a time when many people in her community assumed she’d die. To get the heart she has now — the heart that has seen her through high school, first kisses, proms — a little boy named Matthew had to die. He was 5 when he was hit by a truck and suffered fatal injuries. Luckily for Sandeen, Matthew’s family decided to donate his organs.

And she’s never forgotten that.

“It’s going to be hard to give up Matthew’s heart,” she said. “I asked them a couple of days ago, ‘I wonder if I could hold it.’”

Sandeen, 23, has a lot of time to think these days. She’s stuck in a hospital room at St. Marys Hospital in Rochester. And it is there that she’ll stay until the time comes when she must cash in Matthew’s heart for a new one. Sandeen is a status 1A on the transplant list. This means a team of doctors could rush into her hospital room today and tell her a new heart is here, and it’s go time.

Or, she could be waiting several weeks. Or months.

She’s crossing her fingers in the hopes that she gets a heart for her birthday on April 16.

“If I don’t get one, I’m going to seriously cry,” she said.

She says that jokingly, but Sandeen is a young woman whose life has given her plenty of reason to weep.

When she was just 8 years old, she 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.

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