Twenty-nine year old Jennifer Shih had been studying to be a doctor since high school, when she began taking pre-med classes at Louisiana State University. She spent the next eight years completing her undergraduate and medical school studies at LSU and LSU Medical School in New Orleans. She then moved to Atlanta to begin her residency program in pediatrics at Emory University. Three years later, Jennifer completed her residency and could have begun practicing as a pediatrician like many of her classmates. However, for years, Jennifer has wanted to help infants and children with heart problems, so she left a huge circle of friends and the familiarity of Atlanta to pursue her goal of becoming a pediatric cardiologist.
In June of 2004, Jennifer moved to Cincinnati to begin her fellowship at one of the top cardiology programs in the nation. Ironically, just a few months into her fellowship, Jennifer would encounter heart problems of her own. On Monday, August 30th, 2004, Jennifer began to think that the exhaustion she was experiencing was more than just fatigue from being on-call for five out of six days. She performed an echocardiogram on herself (a skill she had just learned the previous month in her fellowship) and found that she had fluid around her heart. With her blood pressure rapidly dropping, she went to the emergency room.
Initially, doctors thought she had a virus causing fluid to collect around her heart but later realized the disease was attacking the heart itself. She was eventually diagnosed with an extremely rare disease called Giant Cell Myocarditis. Jennifer’s condition deteriorated, and by Wednesday, September 1st, she was airlifted to The Cleveland Clinic due to the severity of her condition. By the next morning, doctors had determined that her heart was too damaged to pump on its own, and performed emergency surgery to implant a temporary device that would act as an artificial heart.
The doctors later determined that a heart transplant was Jennifer’s only hope for survival. Jennifer was placed at the highest priority level on a transplant list and remained in ICU, weak and in a great deal of pain. On September 12th, 2004, a miracle occurred when a donor heart was found. After waiting an agonizing five hours to determine if the heart was a match and enduring a six-hour surgery, Jennifer received her heart transplant.
Click here to download the blog archive of Jennifer's illness and recovery. The blog is a compilation of e-mails from Jennifer's friend, Kerri, to other friends while she was ill and blog entries from Jennifer during her recovery.