This Aspiring Cardiac Nurse Celebrates Her 1 Year Anniversary Since Her Heart Transplant
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This Aspiring Cardiac Nurse Celebrates Her 1 year anniversary since her heart transplant

A former Norfolk State University undergrad reflects on the time she almost died.

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This Aspiring Cardiac Nurse Celebrates Her 1 year anniversary since her heart transplant
Jataria Johnson

Jataria Johnson, who many know as NuNue or Newskii, was just 16 years old when she was diagnosed with Congestive Heart Failure, a condition in which the heart doesn't pump blood as well as it should. This condition can run in the family, as it did in Johnson's case.

"It's like a heart problem. Just like people with asthma have trouble breathing, I have heart problems," Johnson said.

Despite her cardiologist recommending that she get a heart transplant, Johnson refused to do so at such a young age because she didn't think her heart was that bad.

"I wanted to do what most teens do which is work and party. I just looked forward to enjoying my high school career," Johnson said.

In August 2016 Johnson started school at Norfolk State University, a nearly 3 hour drive away from her hometown of Farmville, Virginia. However, it wasn't long before her health became worse.

"I was suffering. I had like six hospital visits," Johnson said.

Johnson said she did not want to worry her mother, so she did not confide in her mother until it was time for her to go to the hospital. However, Johnson said at her last visit to Sentara Norfolk General, the doctors told her that there were spots on her lungs and they believed it was a blood clot. It was then, that Johnson returned home for the spring semester.

March 2017 Johnson said she began experiencing really bad cramps in her stomach one day and she told her mom. At the time, Johnson's mother thought it was an appendicitis and recommended that Johnson go to the hospital.

"At that point, I was tired of going to the hospital. I didn't want any more bad news, " Johnson said.

Johnson was at Centra Southside Community Hospital for several hours before being transported to Virginia Commonwealth University's Medical Center where she was told that she was dying. Johnson said the doctor told her that her heart was pulling blood from all of her other organs to pump properly. Initially, Johnson was sent home with an IV drip but when she returned, she was told once more that her heart was failing.

May 2017 Johnson was given bridge-to-transplant therapy. As a part of her therapy, Johnson used a left ventricular assist device, which is a battery-operated, mechanical heart pump. Johnson said she used the LVAD for three weeks before getting a call on May 30, 2017 that someone, who Johnson didn't know due to confidentiality, had donated a new heart for Johnson.

"I cried from 1 p.m. until 7 a.m., when I got to the hospital," Johnson said.

Though most people usually have two hours to make it to the hospital when they get a call for a heart transplant before the next person on the list is called, Johnson said her experience was different because she has the rare blood Type AB-positive.

May 31, 2017 at 3 a.m. Johnson underwent surgery.

"During the process of a transplant, all of your organs are shut down and you're basically dead," Johnson said.

Following surgery, Johnson said patches and a rotating machine was used to awaken her organs again. After regaining her strength, Johnson recovered from her transplant within three weeks. Her doctors were shocked as that was the fastest recovery for a transplant they had ever seen and most people are in the hospital for a month or two. Johnson said she also became very thirsty and began urinating a lot. Soon after, Johnson found out she had diabetes.

Johnson said today she is doing better and takes insulin for her diabetes. December 2019 Johnson will be graduating from Centra College of Nursing a registered nurse. Throughout her journey, she said faith took her a long way, she developed a lifestyle she called "Bounce Back Nu," and she said her career goal changed.

"I used to want to be a pediatric nurse. Now I want to be a cardiac nurse. It inspired me how much technology and medicine changed my whole life around," Johnson said.

Johnson has no regrets about not getting her transplant when she was 16.

To anyone that has been diagnosed with Congestive Heart Failure, Johnson said, "I feel like you shouldn't worry as much because it's different levels to it. My case was different from my mom's. In my case, the medicine wasn't working and my heart percentage was declining. Just live your best life and take your medicine as you should."

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