‘Emotional’: Heart transplant recipient meets father of donor in special moment

A heart transplant recipient meets the father of her donor in a special moment. (Source: Cleveland Clinic/LOCAL NEWS X/TMX)
Published: Aug. 24, 2023 at 5:35 PM CDT
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CLEVELAND (Gray News/TMX) - A young woman who finally received a heart transplant last year after more than 20 surgeries over the course of her life was recently able to meet the parents of her heart donor.

Katherine Schroeder-Herrmann was born with Shone’s Complex, a rare congenital heart disease diagnosed when babies have at least three defects that impact blood flow in the left side of the heart.

Schroeder-Herrmann had her first open-heart surgery at 1 month old and had a pacemaker installed soon after. She underwent more than 20 heart procedures before her 22nd birthday, according to the Cleveland Clinic.

Despite daily medications and frequent maintenance surgeries to keep her condition in check, Schroeder-Herrmann was diagnosed with heart failure at the age of 18. She found out when she went in to have her pacemaker replaced.

“I came in for the procedure during my college winter break because I thought it would be a routine thing. But I ended up finding out I was in heart failure and a transplant was my next option,” Schroeder-Herrmann said in a press release from the Cleveland Clinic.

Her care team at the clinic included doctors Gerard Boyle and Eileen Hsich.

According to her doctors, Schroeder-Herrmann was at high risk during a heart transplant because her childhood surgeries had put wear and tear on the blood vessels in her legs.

“During open-heart surgery, we look for blood vessels to put catheters in to help keep blood circulating,” Hsich said. “We usually go to the largest vessels in the groin area, but she didn’t have them. Both of her legs had blockages that prevented proper blood flow.”

While waiting for the transplant, Schroeder-Herrmann continued attending college and even got engaged, but her condition worsened.

“I started having memory issues due to the lack of blood flow to my brain. I also struggled with shortness of breath and keeping my energy and appetite up,” Schroeder-Herrmann said. “I went through my senior year of college hoping and praying I would get a call a heart was available. I was exhausted physically and mentally.”

She finally received a successful heart transplant in July 2022, at the age of 21.

“I was able to marry my college sweetheart. It’s something I never thought I would live to see. I’m beyond grateful for the many new things I’ve been able to experience since my transplant,” Schroeder-Herrmann said.

When she decided to learn more about her deceased heart donor, Desiree Burge, the Cleveland Clinic facilitated a meeting with Burge’s family.

According to the clinic, Burge saved five lives through organ donation.

“I wanted to learn about my donor because I want to make sure I’m using this heart for a good purpose. It was emotional and overwhelming to hear about the person who’s gotten me this far,” Schroeder-Herrmann said. “Desiree was feisty and funny – things I clearly am myself. It’s a perfect match in a lot of ways, and it was a blessing to be able to meet her family.”

Darrell Conner, Burge’s father added, “Desiree’s heart lives on, and so does she. Even though she’s no longer with us on Earth, her decision to be an organ donor means she’s still here in a way. We know she made a difference, and we find comfort and pride in that.”