I was in the prime of my life when I almost died. I had no medical problems before all of this. I didn’t know that it was going to happen.
I am currently an Emergency Medicine physician-in-training. I was going to be done with training this year, and then I was going to start a fellowship (continued training) in Critical Care Medicine. However, I had to put all of this on hold because of what happened to me on December 21, 2018.
I had a terrible cough for a few weeks that just wasn’t going away. This cough got worse mid-December, and I even began having some shortness of breath. This was very frightening for me. As an ER doctor, I knew that something might have been wrong, but I didn’t know exactly what or how bad my condition would actually be. Thus, I walked over to the emergency department. For the first time, I was walking to the emergency department as a patient, and not as a doctor. I was very scared of what might be wrong with me.
My doctor decided to admit me to the hospital because of my dyspnea. I also had a very high heart rate, and just “didn’t look good.” I was very hesitant about the admission, but I finally gave in and was taken upstairs. While I was on the medical floors, I began feeling very lightheaded, cold, and nauseated. I knew that something was wrong. I looked up at the monitor, and realized that my heart rate was quickly declining. It was already in the 40s…. 30s….
Dozens of people swarmed into my room. I don’t remember much from this, but I do remember nurses and doctors trying to get intravenous access on me. They even tried to put pacer pads on my chest (to restart my heart, in case it stopped …. and it sure seemed like it was going there).
I woke up from a coma about a day later and had no idea what had happened to me. But the doctors around me looked concerned. Multiple specialists came into my hospital room in the Intensive Care Unit as we all tried to figure out what was happening to me. One of the physicians suggested that it may be my heart. We did some studies on my heart and realized that my poor heart was barely functioning. I was in acutely decompensated heart failure.
How could this happen to me? What would cause this?
After more tests, we found out that it was because I had familial dilated cardiomyopathy. It had gone undiagnosed for several years and suddenly decided to show up in 2018, while I was finishing up my training and getting excited for the next chapter of my life.
My heart’s function was not improving, despite how aggressive we were with the medications. There was one last treatment left. It had come down to something I never thought I’d be told:
“Alin, you need an urgent heart transplant.”
Urgent. Heart. Transplant. I was in shock, but was able to process through the recommendation. I knew that it was what I needed to have the best quality of life from here forth. I knew that if I declined this treatment, I would die. Subsequently, I was enlisted for a heart transplant. Considering my circumstances, I was placed high on the list.
Less than two weeks later, I got “The Call.” There was a heart for me! I was going to be going to the operating room in a few hours, and I was going to come out with a new, healthier heart. I was very excited that day. With that, though, there were a lot of unknowns and I was obviously a little anxious about the open-heart surgery. But what I did know was this: I knew that after the surgery was over, I wanted to do something with my life for the organ donor community.
The surgery went well and without any complications. As soon as I woke up, I felt rejuvenated. I was able to breathe! I had no cough! Within days, I added new life goals to my old ones. I couldn’t necessarily control what had already happened to me, but I could now control how I felt about the situation, and what I would do from here out that could help others in similar situations.
Because of this experience, I created a blog to not only talk about my story as a transplant patient, but also to ultimately raise awareness on organ donation. As a doctor, I know about how important organ donation is. As a transplant recipient, though, these subject matters have only been emphasized even more in my life. I also want to honor my donor for giving me a second chance at life. There is truly so much to be grateful for.
With my new life, I am bound to continue training to become an ER & ICU physician, but I am also bound to change what I can and advocate about things that matter to me the most.
Alin Gragossian is currently a third-year Emergency Medicine resident physician in Philadelphia, PA. She received a heart transplant in January, and has been helping out the organ donation community since then.
She is a graduate of UCLA (BS in Psychobiology) USC (MPH) LMU DeBusk College of Osteopathic Medicine (DO). Her future goals include doing a fellowship in critical care and getting involved with research and academics. Alin enjoys cooking, trying tons of new foods, traveling, making jewelry, and hiking.