Battling a life-threatening illness is challenging enough, but when confronted with a second debilitating health condition, Elisabeth Kepley knew she was in for a different kind of fight.
“It almost took me out,” said Kepley of her Stage 4 non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma diagnosis in 2006. “My organs were shutting down, and I was very sick,” recalled the single mother of three. “Ten years later, though in remission, I learned that the chemotherapy used to treat my cancer had nearly destroyed my heart.”
In fall 2016, Kepley was visiting her son in Colorado when her heart began to fail. She was admitted to a local hospital and then flown back home with a life vest and medications. When she tried to get an appointment to discuss a transplant at a New York City hospital, she was turned down because she wasn’t “sick enough.”
She then turned to Westchester Medical Center, the flagship of the Westchester Medical Center Health Network, in Valhalla. “When I walked into the Emergency Department doors at 4 a.m. on December 27, I couldn’t walk more than a few feet before I had to stop,” she said. By January 1, 2017, she was placed on the list for a heart transplant.
While waiting for a heart, Kepley remained hospitalized for four months, so doctors could keep a close eye on her.
“To qualify for a transplant, a patient has to be sick enough to require hospitalization,” said Dr. Chhaya Aggarwal-Gupta, a cardiologist at WMCHealth. “Some medical centers require cancer or former cancer patients to wait five years before getting a transplant, but they may not have that long.”
According to Aggarwal-Gupta, two out of the 25 to 30 heart transplants completed at Westchester Medical Center each year are performed on cancer patients. “We go the extra mile,” she said, “though the decision is based on each individual. Because of the risks, patients have to be compliant about follow-up, taking their medications and eating healthfully. Elisabeth’s recovery has been very uneventful, which is what you want.”
Continue reading via Advancing Care in the Hudson Valley.