Almost one year after undergoing a life-saving heart transplant at Hahnemann University Hospital, Tryphosa Pressley returned to the facility for another reason — to become an employee.
The Southwest Philadelphia resident first came to Hahnemann in 2005 as a patient undergoing treatment for congestive heart failure.
During the 1990s, Pressley realized something was wrong when she began to experience shortness of breath while walking. She couldn’t walk up and down the hallway at her job without feeling short of breath. Her primary care physician thought she had bronchitis and started treating her with antibiotics. However, her symptoms did not improve.
After consulting another physician, she was diagnosed with congestive heart failure, a condition in which the heart can no longer pump enough blood to the rest of the body.
When she was referred to Dr. Howard J. Eisen at Temple University Hospital, he told her she needed a heart transplant, however, she wasn’t ready to undergo the surgery.
“At that time I was very naïve, and I didn’t know anything about heart transplants,” says Pressley.
Eisen said her congestive heart failure was possibly due to a combination of a virus that attacked her heart and hypertension. Pressley was placed on various medications to treat the heart failure.
When Eisen moved to Hahnemann in 2005, Pressley made the move with him. Eisen specializes in heart failure and heart transplant care.
Pressley went through periods of hospitalization because her body kept retaining water. Less blood was being pumped to her kidneys, resulting in fluid retention.
In 2006, Pressley had a defibrillator implanted near her heart. The device gave Pressley a necessary jolt several times over the next few years. She recalled an occasion when the device gave her such a powerful jolt that she was knocked down a flight of stairs.
“The doctors told me at that time that the defibrillator really saved my life,” Pressley recollected.
By 2009, her heart was worsening. In January of 2010, Pressley and her family discussed transplant options and she was placed on the waiting list for a new heart. She was told that she couldn’t continue to live without receiving a heart.
Due to the heart failure, Pressley’s kidneys started to fail. While awaiting a new organ, Pressley was hospitalized for months and given intravenous medications to help stabilize her condition.
“The vast majority of patients with heart failure do very well for years with medication. Unfortunately some people’s heart failure progresses despite the medicine that we have and that happened with her,” says Eisen, Chief, Division of Cardiology, Drexel University College of Medicine.
“When that happened, that’s when we had to do something that would prolong her life and improve her quality of life, and that was heart transplantation.”
One of the biggest issues facing people who have heart failure is the lengthy wait for a new heart.
“The problem is there is a tremendous shortage of organs so that’s why people have to wait such a long time. The shorter the wait, the more likely people are to survive after transplant,” said Eisen.
Pressley wouldn’t receive a new heart until December 17, 2010, almost 11 months after she was placed on the waiting list. For Pressley, the heart was like a Christmas present.
When she learned that she would finally receive a new heart, Pressley couldn’t contain her enthusiasm. At the time, she faced end-stage heart failure.
“I just started hollering and screaming and thanking the good Lord for the miracle,” says the native of Florence, S.C.
Prior to receiving her heart, she was placed on dialysis.
In November 2011 — almost a year after she underwent heart surgery — Pressley returned to Hahnemann to work as a lab assistant.
“I had God’s favor. He is a miracle-working God,” says Pressley.
Pressley is reaping the benefits of living with a new heart.
“She’s done great. The pressure in her lungs has come down. She’s done extremely well,” says Eisen.
“I’m living a lot better. I can get around better. I just feel 100 percent better than I would have felt 10 years ago,” she said.
“I can do what I want to do. I don’t have any limitations.”
In addition to working at Hahnemann, Pressley is active in various ministries at Prayer Chapel Church of God in Christ in Upper Darby, Pa.
Now Pressley is gearing up to write a book about coping with congestive heart failure.
“I believe that if I had known what I know now, my case wouldn’t have gotten so severe,” she said.