Megan Cregger had her first open heart surgery when she was nine months old. She was born with a congenital heart defect known as Transposition of the Great Arteries, where her left and right arteries were reversed. Her body would circulate blood before it had a chance to get oxygen from her lungs. At the time, doctors provided a temporary solution to a long term problem.
In May 2005, just three weeks before her wedding, Megan received her first pacemaker. A few years later, her health began to deteriorate and she came to Johns Hopkins for an appointment. During Megan’s first appointment here, her cardiologist looked over her charts and history and said, “You need a transplant.” Because a transplant is always a last resort, Megan was given a second pacemaker – a biventricular pacemaker – in November 2009. It was at this time that she was added to the transplant waiting list.
An Emotional Time
Megan was able to spend Christmas 2009 at home with her family. During this time, she was on bed rest and immobile. In January 2010, Megan moved into the Johns Hopkins Hospital to wait for a new heart. “While I was at home, I was so excited I was getting a new heart because I needed one and I was with my family,” Megan said. “Once I moved into the hospital, I felt like I had lost everything,” she admits. Each day after work, Megan’s husband would drive more than an hour to visit her. He would spend the night in the hospital, then drive back to Alexandria, Virginia, for work the next day. Megan worried about her church family and the teens that she had mentored. She felt disconnected from them, and that put an emotional strain on Megan. Through this time, Megan relied on God, her family and friends. She had many pictures to remind her of all of the people who loved her. And her family came to visit as often as possible.
The Surgery and Recovery
L to R: Angel Gifford-Hinson (Megan's
sister), Megan, Diane Gifford (Megan's
mother), Kelly Gifford (Megan's sister-in-law)
Finally, on February 18, 2010, Megan received her new heart. The surgery took 12 hours, and afterwards, Megan slept for five days. It had been a complicated surgery and she lost a lot of blood, and the transplant team wanted to give her body plenty of time to recover. During this time, Megan received two blood transfusions, and she is grateful to the people who donated.
Once she was able to return home, Megan required four weeks of continuous care. “When you first get home, you can literally do nothing. Having people bathe you is very humiliating, and for me, it was a very emotional experience,” Megan remembers. Her family was very supportive and helpful during this time, taking turns to care for her each week. “By three and a half weeks, I could take a shower by myself. That was a miracle. It hurt still, but I was doing it by myself,” Megan said.
Leading an Active Life
Six weeks after her surgery, Megan could walk a mile on the treadmill. At eight weeks, Megan and her family visited the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C. Usually, Megan would take the elevator to the top of the memorial, in fact, she would avoid stairs at all costs. But that April day in 2010, Megan climbed all 60 steps to the top of the memorial. “I felt like Rocky Balboa….I wanted to shout to everyone ‘I just had a heart transplant and I feel amazing!’ It was so awesome.”
Reflecting on her transplant experience, Megan offers words of advice to people going through a similar transplant. “If you ever need anything, call your doctors and nurses. They are with you every step of the way. They are basically like your extended family.” Megan suggests surrounding yourself with positive people and family and being your own advocate. She also recommends keeping a keen perspective of transplant aspects like medication and weight gain. During her surgery, Megan gained 60 pounds and she takes 36 pills each day. “A lot of people are scared about gaining weight. You will lose it. Your life is more important than weight gain…We need to think about our donors and their family members and our lives that we got back when we are complaining about all of the issues we have now because of medication.”
Megan looks forward to a long and active life. She acknowledges, “My transplant is not who I am. It does not define me.”
L to R: Don and Diane Gifford (Megan's parents), Megan, Chris
Cregger (Megan's husband), Bonnie and Larry Cregger