Girl receives third heart transplant

March 16, 2009 7:58:52 PM PDT
If Vanessa Williams sings about a broken heart with an authority far beyond her 18 years, maybe it is because she knows a thing or two about hearts and what happens when they truly are broken.

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"When I found out I was a little depressed because I thought couldn't do anything anymore," she said.

Born with a life threatening-condition, Vanessa received her first heart transplant shortly after birth. Then early last year, she received the discouraging news that she would need another

"One of the complications of transplantation is a risk called graft coronary disease, where the arteries that supply blood to the heart can become narrowed," explained Dr. Daniel Bernstein.

Bernstein directs the Lucile Packard Children's Heart Center at Stanford. He says Vanessa's need for a second transplant is still rare, but with the help of modern drug therapies a growing number of young patients are beginning to literally outlive their donor hearts.

"She had to go on the list the same way she would have as a newborn," Bernstein said.

"I became nervous. I was concerned," recalled Vanessa's aunt, Curly Muse.

Vanessa was living with her aunt in Stockton, finishing high school, preparing for college and dreaming of a professional singing career.

"When she makes up her mind to do something, she's going to do it," Muse said.

The family finally received word a second donor heart had become available and Vanessa underwent surgery in January. According to her doctors, the risks of infection and other complications are higher the second time around.

She awoke nearly unable to speak and had to struggle to get voice and wind back, the best way she knew how.

"I sung and sung. I know I got on their nerves. I sung and sung until I got my lungs back to normal," Vanessa said.

Now, more than two months later her prognosis is described as good.

Doctors say some patients are currently living up to 20 years on second hearts. While there are no guarantees, Vanessa is working to catch up on school work so she can apply to college.

"I want to go to Grambling State. I want to perform," she said.

If all goes according to plan she will go to Gramling State and sing with all her heart.

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