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March 28, 2023

She moved from Texas to be close to IU Health’s leading transplant program

IU Health University Hospital

She moved from Texas to be close to IU Health’s leading transplant program

When she knew she would need not one, but multiple organs transplanted, this patient moved nearly 900 miles from her home state.

By IU Health Senior Journalist, TJ Banes,

For the first time in her life, Christy Heath feels warmth. Oddly enough, she is spent her third winter in Indiana. Her entire life has been lived in Dallas, Tx. where temperatures can climb well past 100 degrees.

“It wasn’t unusual for me to be snuggled up with fuzzy socks, sweats and an electric blanket. A 110 degree Texas summer felt good to me,” said Heath, who turned 50 this month. As she talks, her southern accent is pronounced, and her words indicate affection for her new Hoosier home.

“I can’t say enough about IU Health - the fact that they were willing to take my case when other places would probably have turned me down. They are a safety net for those of us who have these unique conditions. They’re not afraid to take on the challenge,” said Heath.

For her, the challenge was that she needed a multi-organ transplant.

“I didn’t have a choice but to have surgery. It was risky but it was risky not to have it,” said Heath, who has been married to her husband, Phillip for 20 years. She is also the mother to a son, 26.

Christy Heath

Looking back, Heath believes her health began to decline in her late 20s. At the age of 28 she was diagnosed with Stage 4 breast cancer. She was treated with eight rounds of chemotherapy and eight rounds of radiation at a hospital near her home in Texas. She also went through genetic testing to see if there was an inherited mutation. It came back negative.

A middle school teacher, she was back at work and deemed “cancer free.” When she had a second occurrence 15 years later, Heath again went through several rounds of chemotherapy.

“We have no family history of any type of cancer. I am the first,” she said. “Hindsight is 20/20 and my blood took on an auto immune disorder created by the chemotherapy. A few years prior to her second breast cancer diagnosis she began experiencing severe gastrointestinal bleeding.

“The bleeds were so often that the ER doctors knew me,” said Heath. After a routine endoscopy and colonoscopy, doctors discovered a polyp. A followup biopsy revealed she had Stage 4 lymphoma, a cancer of the lymphatic system - the body’s disease-fighting system. As she was going through chemotherapy, Heath’s liver enzyme numbers were escalating, indicating inflammation or damage to her liver. She discontinued the chemo and hoped for the best. Her scans and bloodwork showed the lymphoma was in remission and her breast cancer was gone.

She opted for a double mastectomy as further prevention. Nine hours after reconstructive surgery, she was back in the operating room due to excessive bleeding. In all, she had seven surgical procedures in six days.

“It wasn’t until 2020 when I was back in the hospital with a GI bleed that a team of liver transplant doctors in Texas looked at my films and determined I had clots throughout my abdomen. Basically, my body had built roads around the bigger clots to pass blood. That’s when they said I needed a multi-organ transplant,” said Heath.

Her team in Texas ranked only the top three hospitals in the United States known for multi-organ transplants. They put IU Health at the top, said Heath.

“I knew I needed the transplant and because of the magnitude of the transplant, I knew I needed to be in arm’s length of the hospital,” said Heath. After doing her research, she chose IU Health where she was in the hands of Dr. Richard Mangus.

“We knew there was a team that knew what to do and what not to do. Back home our church family packed our house in one day and within three weeks I was in the car with the dog for an18-hour drive ready to move into temporary housing,” said Heath. It was December of 2020. Her husband stayed behind to close their house and then joined her right before Christmas. It was all during COVID when Heath went through extensive testing and was listed in January 2021.

Christy Heath and her husband

“I heard enough that I knew I would be on a waiting list for some time but I also knew that the team at IU Health recognized that I needed to be listed as soon as possible. I was most likely months away from probably going into Hospice when I received the call in the middle of the night on Oct. 9, 2022,” said Heath.

Over the span of two days - Oct. 9 and 10, Heath received transplantation of a liver, pancreas, stomach, large and small intestine.

“When I woke up and was lucid, I started self-assessing and I immediately felt different,” said Heath. “The first thing that hit me was that I felt warm for the first time in almost five years. The transplant team at IU Health pushed through a difficult surgery; I pushed through it and each day feel better.”

She was discharged a month later. “I progressed so quickly that they couldn’t find a medical reason to keep me,” said Heath. She celebrated the first part of December by attending a concert with a friend. “I said, “I'm ready. Let’s get dressed up and go out.”

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