March 26, 2024

Nicole Clement

Nicole Clement got sick with a bad cold in October 2019. She didn’t think anything of it and recalls, “I had a nasty cold and was down for the count for a week. I made a super eerie Snapchat stating I was on my deathbed, and I couldn’t breathe or talk.” The cough remained, but her other symptoms disappeared. Over the next few months, her cough would come and go. Nicole began teaching for the 2020-2021 year with her health intact, but towards the end of the year, her cough became so violent that it caused pain, phlegm, and incontinence. 

In December 2020, Nicole noticed a ticking in her sinuses when lying down. She self-diagnosed herself with asthma after researching online. She had shortness of breath; her legs were swollen, and she could barely walk from the kitchen to the bathroom without taking a break or standing against a wall to catch her breath. Urgent care told her she had bronchitis, and prescribed prednisone and an inhaler. After receiving an Xray she was diagnosed with tracheal bronchitis (or Tracheobronchitis) and physicians told her she had an enlarged heart. Nicole stayed on prednisone and used her inhaler, which she later discovered could potentially be a lethal combination given her condition. She wore aFitbit to keep track of her heart rate which was 130-140 while resting. “I remember I couldn’t sleep and had to always sit upright. I was only comfortable in child’s prayer pose.” Nicole called a cardiologist yet couldn’t get an appointment for three more weeks. 

On December 25th, Nicole did not make it to Christmas dinner at her mom’s house; she went to the emergency room after her feet had turned blue from poor circulation. The doctor immediately ordered an echocardiogram and blood work. Nicole was admitted to the hospital that night. While in the hospital, she couldn’t breathe but didn’t want to bother anyone or seem annoying. She finally got the courage to push the call button and told her nurses she could not breathe. The nurses believed she was having panic attack and advised her on different breathing techniques; that’s when she went unconscious. 

Nicole was in cardiac arrest for about 36 minutes, came back for a minute, and had another arrest for 10 minutes. Her medical records state that she went stiff and blue. She was rushed to the ICU where she was intubated and managed for a week while medical staff tried to transfer her to a different hospital for escalated care. “All I remember is feeling like I got kidnapped – I had tube in my mouth, and I was restrained because I was trying to pull things out and I was quite agitated.”

After a week went by, while on dialysis, Nicole was transported via Medi-Flight to a hospital that could provide a higher level of care. She awoke after three days to learn she had heart failure. For two weeks, medical staff worked to stabilize her blood pressure. Nicole was encouraged to walk as much as possible and told she would need to lose 80 lbs before she could be evaluated for a heart transplant. 

Nicole then left the hospital and spent five days in cardiac rehabilitation. Her condition seemed to improve but then, as she was about to go home, she became very ill. Her blood pressure was severely low, and an ambulance transported her back to the local hospital. After two hospital visits that day,Nicole was diagnosed with pneumonia and sent back to rehab later that evening.Nicole remembers nothing and was told she had two more cardiac arrests – one was eight minutes and the other seven minutes. She was placed on VA ECMO (veno-arterial extracorporeal membrane oxygenation) support for 10 days. The Impella CP® heart pump was also inserted into her left ventricle through an artery in her groin to allow her heart to rest while she awaited an LVAD (left ventricular assist device) to be implanted in her heart to indefinitely take over the pumping function of her weak heart.. 

Nicole was on the LVAD for two years and seven months, which she named ‘Fredrick Lorenzo’. “Did I love it? No. Did I hate it? No. I didn’t realize I had it unless I was carrying it around.” The LVAD made Nicole feel safe. Nicole received her new heart on September 23, 2023 and is doing great and is so thankful.

“When I say advocate for yourself, you can do this in a few ways: Go to the doctor when something is wrong, you know your body better than anyone; go to the ER if you are in dire need of help; and speak up! Speak up for yourself when you are dismissed, when you feel that you need more, and especially speak up to the very people that took an oath to take care of you. You can’t keep pleasing people and if you don’t speak up you can die.” 


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