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Lung transplant brings unexpected answers to 27-year-old Ileana Hernandez was born with two holes in her heart. But for 27 years, no one knew. Hernandez, a computer systems engineer, worked long hours at her job with Bank of America in Jacksonville, Fla. She had transferred from her native Mexico because of her particular set of skills. Things were going fine until she started to notice shortness of breath when she climbed to her upstairs apartment. “I had an explanation for everything -- it was the long hours, or the weekend-long computer installations, or the fact that I hadn’t slept in two days,” Hernandez recalls. As the youngest of three children growing up in Guadalajara, Mexico, she had led a normal life, did weight training in high school, participated in folkloric dancing -- including some parades -- and had no problem getting through college. “Exhaustion was my justification [for the symptoms],” Hernandez says. But one evening, as she climbed the steps to her apartment with two bags of groceries, she ran out of breath and had to hold on to the rail. She felt pain in her chest. She composed herself and still went to work to do an evening computer systems installation thinking that the chest pain would go away. It didn’t, and by the next day she knew it was time to find a doctor.
A few years ago, Jessica Veach’s life was going according to plan. She’d started her career as an elementary school teacher — a dream she'd had since she was 8 years old — and was settling into married life with her husband, Colin. Jessica was also successfully managing epilepsy, which she had been diagnosed with during her freshman year at Vanderbilt University. But in 2010, something changed. “After 10 years of having my seizures under control with medication, they came back with a vengeance,” says Jessica, who lives in Seattle. What had been occasional simple partial seizures were now frequent complex partial seizures. Soon, Jessica was forced to take a medical leave from teaching. She had to give up driving and many of the activities she loved. And the unpredictability of her seizures, as well as the exhaustion that set in after a seizure, limited the time she was able to spend with friends. "Giving up my independence was very difficult," she says. "I was limited to places within walking distance, or I had to rely on friends for rides." Even with the precautions she took, Jessica faced risks. One day while Colin was at work, she fell down a flight of stairs during a seizure. “I started to be scared to do anything on my own, because I never knew when a seizure might happen,” she says. “I decided it was time to explore all of my treatment options.”
After 35 years on the road as a video technician for the CBS network covering major sporting events including the Super Bowl, the Olympics, SEC football, the Masters Golf Tournament, and the U.S. Open Tennis Tournament, Brooklyn native Robert Duffy was living a very active and busy life that kept him on the road about 240 days a year. At 60 years of age, his diabetes was under control, and he otherwise seemed healthy as he led a life of irregular hours, extended travel and living out of hotel rooms. All that changed in 2011, when he became ill while covering a golf tournament in San Diego. He went to the hospital, and during his 10-day stay, Duffy was diagnosed with both liver and kidney disease. He was told he needed to have a confirmed appointment with a transplant center before he could be released from the hospital. Fortunately for Duffy, he had recently moved to Amelia Island, Fla., just a few miles down the road from Mayo Clinic in Jacksonville, the only transplant center in the Jacksonville / northeast Florida area. “I was told I needed both a liver and kidney transplant, and was extremely lucky to end up at Mayo Clinic, as they were the only transplant center willing to list me because of my hepatitis-C, which I contracted in my teens but has been dormant for the past 40 years,” says Duffy. “The fact that I had recently moved to the Jacksonville area, where a top transplant center happened to be located, was a true blessing in my case.” Duffy was put on the transplant list in March 2012 and received both organs from a deceased donor on Feb. 14, 2013, which happened to be Valentine’s Day and the birthday of his beloved dog, Bella. One year later, he is doing well and has decided to devote his life to helping others. “I have a new outlook on life after going through this experience,” he says. “Your health is your wealth, and nothing else really matters if you aren’t healthy and happy. I’ve decided to spend my time giving back to others in need, like my donor has done for me.” Since Duffy lost his father at the age of 12 and understands the need for a male mentor at that impressionable age, he is now involved in several community activities relating to children in the Amelia Island area. “I know what it felt like losing my dad at a young age, and figured maybe I can help fill that void in some small way for other kids in the same situation,” he says. Duffy participates in the Boys and Girls Club in Amelia Island, an organization that helps young people to reach their full potential as productive, caring and responsible citizens. He is mentoring young students and helping them with their homework. He also got involved in a program called “Instruments Zoo,” sponsored by the Jacksonville Symphony Guild, that brings musical instruments into the public schools. This program is targeted to fifth grade students and provides an opportunity for them to get hands-on experience trying out an instrument that they might want to eventually pursue and learn how to play. His latest community involvement effort is with “Take Stock in Children,” a government program targeted to low-income children of high school age. Duffy is mentoring a high school student during his entire four years of study, with the goal of helping him work hard, stay out of trouble, graduate from high school and ultimately receive a fully paid college education through the program. “Giving back to the community, especially children, is important to me at this stage of my life,” says Duffy. “I’d love to go back to my job at CBS. They are like extended family and have been very good to me. But I realize that I probably couldn’t handle the rigors of that job anymore, with all the travel, so I’m focusing now on staying healthy and helping others in need. That’s the best choice for me right now.” Duffy is grateful for his second chance at life thanks to his experience at Mayo Clinic in Florida. “From day one everyone involved in my care at Mayo Clinic has been the best and treated me with kindness and respect,” says Duffy. “My life was in their hands, and now that I have been given a second chance it is my turn to pay it forward.” ---- HELPFUL LINKS Learn about both liver and kidney transplant services at Mayo Clinic. See services offered through the Mayo Clinic Transplant Center. Join the conversation in the Transplant Discussion Group on Mayo Clinic Connect. Learn about appointments at Mayo Clinic.
It’s often said that twins share similar traits and have unique bonds that other siblings simply don’t have. Sometimes those traits are things one would rather not share with their twin, especially when it comes to a potentially life-threatening medical condition. Linda Foster and Brenda Santinelli, 60-year-old twin sisters from Pensacola, Fla., are active women with a love of the outdoors. Hiking, camping, fishing, hunting and other activities were well-suited to both their lifestyles. Both sisters are in long-term marriages. Both have young grandchildren. They even both have 20-plus-year careers at Walmart in their hometown. Both were former smokers who quit several years ago.
Most 13-year-old girls wouldn't see having a scar down the middle of their chests as cool. Lola Montilla, however, is not your average 13-year-old girl. When she looks at the scar on her chest from the surgery she had at Mayo Clinic to repair the Ebstein’s anomaly heart defect she was born with, she says it serves as a reminder that what doesn't kill us does indeed make us stronger. "I really, really like my scar," Lola says, from her home in Puerto Rico. "Every time I look at it, it makes me think, 'Wow, I really did go through this, and I'm now back here at home.'" Her mom, Mari Serrano-Montilla, says she and her husband learned that Lola would be born with Ebstein’s anomaly -- a rare heart defect that causes blood to leak back through the tricuspid valve, forcing the heart to work much harder than normal -- late in her pregnancy. "Our doctors here in Puerto Rico said she might need surgery, but it was a matter of just seeing how much progress she made," she says. Outside of not being able to participate in competitive sports in school or go on any of "the cool rides" when her family visited Disney World, Lola lived the first 12 years of her life without much complication or difficulty. But then, just before her 13th birthday, things began to change.