In March 2016, Laura Terranova was fighting the flu. After a couple of days of headaches, dizziness and trouble breathing, she took a turn for the worse. When Laura awoke and could not lift her head, she called her parents who dialed 911.
Upon her arrival at Yale New Haven Hospital, she was diagnosed with fluid around the heart and her heart was functioning at just 40 percent. A mechanical assist device called an intra-aortic balloon pump was implanted to help her heart function.
Her family thought she was out of the woods. When she awoke from the surgery, Laura remembered thinking that her daughter was coming home from college on spring break and she would still be able to salvage some of the week with her.
"That was my last recollection before waking up again a week later with a tube down my throat," Laura said. Her doctors explained that her flu triggered a virus that attacked her heart. Her heart function dropped to 10 percent and her internal organs began to shut down.
Laura's family prepared for the worst. Meanwhile, her doctors prepared for surgery to implant an artificial heart, lung support (ECMO) device to give rest to her heart so it could heal and recover.
"Laura's condition was dire," explained Pramod Bonde, MD, surgical director of Mechanical Circulatory Support in YNHH's Heart and Vascular Center. "We put Laura on ECMO, extracorporeal membrane oxygenation, a machine that temporarily provides cardiac and respiratory support to someone whose heart and lungs are unable to sustain life." However, her heart failed to recover on the ECMO support. After removing the ECMO device, doctors then implanted both left (LVAD) and right (RVAD) ventricular assist devices. After few weeks her right ventricle became stronger and the RVAD was removed. Laura was moved out of intensive care and her name was put on the transplant list.
After further treatment, Laura's heart began to improve.
"I had to learn how to do everything all over again - I had lost many of my muscle functions," Laura explained. "I couldn't hold a toothbrush, type an email, walk or even sit up."
Laura went to rehabilitation and then to her parents' house to continue her recovery. The plan was for her to grow stronger to prepare for another open heart surgery.
By early May, during a checkup, Tariq Ahmad, MD, MPH, cardiologist, YNHH Heart and Vascular Center, spotted a leak in Laura's heart near the LVAD. She had another open heart surgery to repair the leak and then four days later, Laura had her third open heart surgery to remove the LVAD. Her heart was now functioning on its own! A week later, she was finally out of the hospital.
Two-and-a-half months and eight surgeries after being stricken, Laura had improved enough to continue recovery at her parent's house. After three months of intense rehabilitation, she returned to work part-time. By October, Laura was strong enough to walk in the American Heart Association's Heart Walk and she participated in two more walks in the spring of 2017.
"What a year 2016 was for me and for my family! My heart failure affected not just me but them, too!" said Laura. "If I could share one piece of advice, it would be: do not hesitate to call 911. Minutes, even seconds, count and I might not be here today if my parents didn't make that call."
"I truly believe I recovered so quickly because of the amazing doctors, nurses and medical team as well as the tremendous never-ending support from my family and friends," she continued. "I am on my way to complete and full recovery – there's no stopping me now!"