Laurie Lorenz Havener, a fourth-generation Camas resident, endured her first open heart surgery 15 years ago, when her fight with heart failure began.
After the first surgery, Havener wasn’t expected to live.
“They called me a miracle girl,” she said. “I somehow survived and recovered, and from that point on I learned how to live with congestive heart failure.”
Havener said she always lived a healthy life and was not aware of the signs and symptoms of heart failure.
The surgery was the first of many waves of challenges Havener rode out until she received what she called “the greatest gift of life that another person could give” — a new heart.
She had her heart transplant surgery Oct. 19, 2016, after being hospital-bound for more than two months, with a 20-percent chance of finding a matching heart.
A dynamic transplant team at the Oregon Health and Science University (OHSU) came through for Havener by facilitating her miracle, she said.
Havener is still on her road to a full recovery, but said she felt strong enough to honor her donor by participating in this year’s Camas Days Grand Parade, where she will spread information about heart disease and how people can become organ donors.
Spectators at the parade can look for Havener and her beloved friend, Sharon Newberry Martell. The two women will ride in a 1991 topless Jeep Wrangler with Ali, Martell’s Saint Bernard, who will be sporting a hero’s cape.
The parade starts at 11 a.m., Saturday, July 28, in downtown Camas.
“What we would like is to bring awareness and info on how to become an organ donor,” Havener said.
The United States Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) reports 20 people die each day waiting for a transplant, and another person is added to the waiting list every 10 minutes.
As of April 2018, there were 114,000 men, women and children on the national transplant waiting list. Each year, the number of people on the waiting list outpaces the number of transplants and donors, according to DHHS.
Havener began the process to get on the transplant waiting list in 2015, and had been scheduled to receive a left ventricular assist device (LVAD).
“They call it a bridge to transplant. It’s in order to keep you alive until you can get a heart,” Havener said.
Before her scheduled LVAD surgery, Havener told her doctors and family she needed one more week before the procedure.
“They said OK, we’ll take you off the schedule and we’re going to reschedule you for the following Tuesday,” she said. “And on the Tuesday that I was supposed to have the LVAD surgery, I got a heart. They couldn’t believe it. I couldn’t believe it.”
Havener, who has three children, said she wanted to live long enough to see her first grandchild.
Ainsley Havener, the first member of the family’s sixth generation of Camasonians, was born on June 17, 2016.
“It was so wonderful, because they could visit me while I was in the hospital,” Havener said.
It could take up to three years before Havener feels the full impact of her transplant, but her quality of life is steadily improving.
“I can walk distances now where I wasn’t able to before,” she said. “I can actually pick my grandaughter up and hold her — where I couldn’t even pick her up and carry her (before).”
Havener is undoubtedly grateful for her husband of 41 years, Patrick Havener, who she said was her rock throughout her journey, and was by her side for every step of of the way, so much that it became their journey together.
Havener underwent cataract surgery this month, and said her doctors review her charts and still call her a miracle.
“That is a validation for me, because I think that my journey is probably not any different than other people’s. But I think it was very difficult, and every time I always jumped the hurdle and I finally made it,” she said. “Now, I have a second chance at a really full life.”
Havener hopes her participation at Camas Days promotes heart disease awareness and inspires other people to become organ donors.
“I hope that my story can give them hope. And I also want to share my gratitude to the family that lost their loved one, and (tell them) how much their gift has meant to my family.”
All of Havener’s efforts are in honor of her donor, Rachel, she said.