‘The poster child’
An ISU sophomore is on the road to recovery following heart transplant
Published: Friday, March 29, 2013
Updated: Friday, March 29, 2013 00:03
The spring season symbolizes new life and new beginnings for a student, a daughter and a sister who has experienced a life-changing transformation.
Sophomore nursing major Camasia Foltz underwent a successful heart transplant surgery just over six weeks ago at Cleveland Clinic in Ohio. She has since been closely monitored by the hospital’s staff during subsequent check-ups, but all tests and procedures thus far have shown no evidence of a potential rejection, she said.
Camasia knew she needed a new heart three months ago, after collapsing in the driver’s seat of her car, gasping for cold January air.
She had just walked across campus from a class in the Science Building to the parking lot behind the Student Recreation Center.
Out of breath and nearly unable to finish the distance, she sat there in her car to regain her composure. That’s when the panic came rushing in.
“I remember thinking in my head, ‘Oh my goodness, this is bad. This is worse than ever,’” Camasia said in a phone interview last week from her home in Jasper, Ind. after a trip to Cleveland Clinic over the weekend.
A Family History
Foltz suffers from a rare genetic disorder known as Danon disease, which causes the walls of the heart to harden.
According to the Genetics Home Reference webpage by the National Library of Medicine, “Danon disease is a rare condition, but the exact prevalence is unknown.”
The disorder is derived from the x-chromosome, Foltz’s mother said, and comes from her father’s side of the family. Her father, grandfather and three of her cousins have died from the disease and account for several of the known cases in the history of its existence.
Fotlz’s mother, Julia Foltz, said she also had the genetic disorder and had heart transplant surgery at the age of 15.
After struggling with cardiomyaphathy, a symptom of Danon disease, since the age of 12, there was little surprise years ago when genetic testing at Cleveland Clinic confirmed that Foltz had the condition as well, her mother said.
After an echocardiogram last July, a doctor in Evansville determined the walls of Foltz’s heart were hardening due to the onset of the disease and urged the family to return to Cleveland.
Despite the sudden and severe nature of her condition, Foltz continued with classes last semester while traveling to Cleveland Clinic at least once a month. In October, her mother said, doctors decided to begin the work-up for a heart transplant.
“[The doctor] preached to her, ‘It’s not going to go away. We know you have it. We just need to deal with it’,” Foltz’s mother said. “We always knew Camasia had it … we’ve always followed her really closely’.” “That’s another thing about the disease, is it can change overnight. It can be so drastic, and that’s why they watched her so close.”
A Change of Heart
Days after her incident at ISU, Foltz’s condition worsened. During a trip home over the weekend, her mother said she was experiencing spells of dizziness and shortness of breath.
“That second week of school, she said she just noticed a big change,” Foltz’s mother said. “She came home that weekend, and she had an episode Saturday night. She was real light-headed and dizzy and didn’t feel well. She had another one on Sunday night.”
A doctor expressed concern over the phone, so the family made a trip to Cleveland Clinic the next week.
Foltz was moved to the top of the waiting list when the doctors found her injection fraction — a measure of the heart’s contractions — had dropped drastically. At this point, Foltz said, doctors weren’t letting her leave the hospital without a new heart.
That’s no exaggeration: Foltz’s mother said her daughter wasn’t allowed outside the room and, consequently, an alarm would go off if she stood up “because she wasn’t supposed to be out of bed,” she said.
“The last few days, she was antsy, I guess would be a way to describe it,” Foltz’s mother said. “You have four walls, and you’re not allowed outside those four walls.”
About two weeks later, on the afternoon of Monday, Feb. 4, doctors walked in to her room to announce they had acquired “a very young, healthy” specimen, Foltz’s mother said.
“We weren’t expecting it at all,” she said. “I just kept smiling from ear to ear.”
At 8:30 a.m. the next morning, Foltz underwent the seven-hour surgery to replace her ailing heart.
An Outpouring of Support
From frequent 480 mile trips to Cleveland last year, to boring days spent entirely in a hospital bed, to enduring a major surgery, a steady stream of support from Foltz’s friends, family and the ISU and Greek communities has helped ease the process.