Jessica Smith was standing in a restaurant in Winnsboro, South Carolina June 3, 2017, when her chest began hurting. The mother of five thought that perhaps it was just a strain from picking up her then-6-month-old son. “I had just attended the Heart Walk and had all of this information in my head about women and heart attacks and how many don’t have the typical signs of a heart attack,” Smith said. “I thought maybe I just pulled something, and I wanted to lie down.”
Later, Smith says she went to the restaurant’s bathroom and began vomiting. That is when she told her husband, Jason, she knew something was wrong. “I didn’t even vomit while I was pregnant,” Smith said.
With chest pain and her arm hurting, Smith traveled to a nearby emergency room. She told hospital staff about her chest pain and that she was having trouble breathing. The hospital called Fairfield County EMS who rushed her to Palmetto Health Richland.
“The last thing I remember is being shocked in the emergency bay.”
Smith woke up 11 days later on June 14, 2017, with a left ventricular assistance device or LVAD – a surgically implanted mechanical pump attached to the heart. Smith was only 36 years old and had no previous heart conditions.
She described the jarring experience of “waking up to that, not knowing you’d been asleep for 11 days.”
Jeffery Martin, M.D., cardiothoracic surgeon with Palmetto Health-USC Carolina Cardiac Surgery Associates, performed Smith’s LVAD procedure.
“Mrs. Smith arrived with sudden onset of life-threatening heart failure. During her stay, she was supported on three different levels of cardiac assist devices,” said Martin. “The last one she could take home to await cardiac transplantation. Her case highlights the importance of having these different treatment options available for our patients.”
Five months after her LVAD procedure, Smith got the call that everyone who needs a transplant wants to get. Someone had made the ultimate sacrifice to give her a much-needed heart and she had a heart transplant in November at Duke University Medical Center.
Smith’s recovery and rehab consists of physical therapy. She had no feeling from her right knee to her right toes and had to learn how to walk again, but she takes it in stride.
“I’m walking, I’m driving, I’m talking, I’m breathing on my own. I’m not complaining,” Smith said.
Smith, who has worked for SCE&G for 11 years, returned to work a month after her heart transplant. She credits her work family for helping her return to a sense of normalcy so quickly. “I couldn’t’ have asked for better support.”
“It’s had its ups and downs, but so far, it’s been a pretty good journey.”
She also credits the entire LVAD team at Palmetto Health Heart Hospital. “The LVAD team is awesome. They treat everyone like family,” Smith said. “They ask me about my kids. Not one time have I ever needed something and they weren’t able to help me. I couldn’t have asked for better treatment.”
Smith lives in Columbia with her husband, Jason, and three sons and two daughters.
For more information about Heart and Vascular Services at Palmetto Health, visit PalmettoHealth.org/HeartCare or call 803-765-0871.