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Fixing My Heart

WebMD Commentary from "Marie Claire" Magazine

By Colleen Oakley

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Read this and promise us you'll never whine about having a cold again.

When Amy Silverstein told her doctor she was having fainting spells, he dismissed it as nerves. It was only after months of vomiting blood that it became clear she needed a heart transplant. Immediately. At age 25, she was given 10 years to live. Now, at 44, she has written Sick Girl, her memoir of doctors, hospitals, her husband's coping strategies, and a near-death experience.

MC: Ignoring a pounding heart and a few fainting spells is one thing, but I have to say that if I were throwing up blood ...

Silverstein: [Laughs] Well, that's what you say, but you have to look at the context. I was in my 20s. I'd never known anyone who was ill. I had one of the finest internists in New York, who told me early on that I had low blood pressure and was stressed. I know it seems odd, but there's a part of you that wants to believe you're okay. Besides, I was in law school — and what first-year law student doesn't have a pounding heart? We want to believe in our doctors' making little of our symptoms. It comes as a relief to hear that you're a nervous hypochondriac.

MC: You ended up having a heart transplant.

Silverstein: About a year after the serious symptoms started, I had congestive heart failure, which means the muscle wasn't working properly. Tests revealed I'd had a virus in my heart, but the doctors thought I should be better in six months. But six months later, my heart started to have lethal arrhythmias that I'd have to be brought back from. At first, doctors thought they could control them with medicine. But when they gave me a test to find the right prescription, they lost me on the table. The doctor said that there were no options; I needed a transplant. I was first on the recipient list but waited in the hospital about eight weeks to get the transplant.

MC: It's not easy to live with a transplanted heart, yet your book is really the first time your friends and family had a glimpse of how hard it is.

Silverstein: Yeah. People don't recognize that it's hard because I'm not toting around an oxygen tank, and I appear to be fine. I kind of live a disguised life. When I get up from the table after a long dinner with friends, they just walk to the door. I'm walking, and my heart is saying, "What are you doing?" Most people take for granted that when you stand, your heart speeds up immediately. Mine doesn't, and I get a feeling of "wrong" in my body every time.

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