The Free Press, Mankato, MN

Local News

July 4, 2008

Alyssa well a decade after transplant

MANKATO — Alyssa Sandeen believes herself to be a normal 18-year-old, only with a different heart than the one she was born with.

She still takes anti-rejection medication, “but other people have medications, too, so I’m pretty normal.”

Actually, she considers herself healthier than her friends because she sees her doctor more often.

“Every little thing, they’ll fix,” she says.

Her mother, Lisa, says her goal is to write a book about the experience.

Alyssa has a more short-term goal.

“My goal is to get a job.”

While the 1998 transplant that saved her life didn’t make Alyssa a different person, it did not leave her unchanged.

The recent West High School graduate can credit the ordeal with her career aspirations and a second birthday on the anniversary of her transplant. And though it doesn’t overshadow her individuality, Alyssa also lives every day with the implications of her transplanted heart.

The transplant was national news and the family still gets stopped occasionally and asked how they’re doing.

Despite the fact that 10 years have passed, people sometimes mistake Alyssa for her 10-year-old sister, Racheal, who looks like Alyssa did in 1998.

A day from death

The Sandeens’ memory often drifts to those terrifying weeks during the late summer of 1998.

Alyssa came down with flu-like symptoms in early August, and by Aug. 16 she was in Children’s Hospital in Minneapolis, confounding doctors. Only later would Alyssa be diagnosed with cardiomyopathy, a weakening of the heart muscle that is believed to be hereditary.

Her heart had enlarged to four times its normal size and her prognosis was grim. Doctors at the time emphasized she had a less than 5 percent chance at survival, father Chris Sandeen said.

When news of the available heart came on Sept. 4, she probably had only a day or so left to live. She had already had her last rites read to her.

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