Lisa Salberg got an early Valentine’s Day gift this year: a transplant — and the chance to hold her old heart.
The 48-year-old activist, who had hypertrophic cardiomyopathy, received a heart transplant at Newark Beth Israel Medical Center in Newark, New Jersey, on Feb. 2 after suffering decades with the disease, according to ABC News. She was first diagnosed at age 12 before she had a stroke at age 21.
Her doctors told her in the fall that she needed a new heart, and she was put on the organ donor list in November. But she had a special request.
She asked her doctors to preserve her heart so that she could hold it.
Dr. Margarita Camacho told ABC News that she “never had anybody ask that. The first thing I thought was, 'How wonderful she wanted to do that.”
So Camacho gave Salberg her heart four days after her surgery. She said she was surprised by the weight of it.
"I said, 'Thank you. You worked hard for 48 years,'” she told ABC News. "It (was) with me every moment of the day of my life. It was nice to be able to say goodbye."
Hypertrophic cardiomyopathy is a heart condition where the muscle cells are enlarged, which cause the walls of the heart to thicken, The Independent reported. This makes it harder for the heart to pump blood.
According to The Cleveland Clinic, somewhere between 600,000 and 1.5 million people suffer from the disease.
Salberg told the Deseret News that she’s already feeling better after her surgery. She said she took a walk around a nearby lake in her community, walking more than 5,000 steps 19 days after surgery. It’s something, she said, she hasn’t done in a year.
Our #Hearttransplant recipient, Lisa Salberg, founder of Hypertrophic Cardiomyopathy Association goes home on Valentine’s Day. Newark Beth Israel Medical Center and Children’s Hospital of New Jersey
Posted by Newark Beth Israel Medical Center and Children’s Hospital of New Jersey on Tuesday, February 14, 2017
Salberg said she didn’t expect her transplant to receive national attention. But because it did, she wants to help raise awareness about the disease.
"I can actually show people what this disease looks like," Salberg said, according to NJ.com. "Why we look so normal from the outside but our hearts are really built wrong on the inside.
She plans to do that by making copies of her heart with a 3-D printer and giving people copies that they can learn from.
“I think I had a very positive experience being transplanted because I spent the time in advance getting ready for it,” she told the Deseret News. “I had an amazing support team both in my family, my local community and my HCM (hypertrophic cardiomyopathy) community.”
She’s even made it to Utah. Last summer, she worked with Intermountain Healthcare to bring aboard a new Hypertrophic Cardiomyopathy Center at Intermountain Medical Center, which researches treatment and management methods for the disease.
Dr. Mark Zucker, director of Heart Failure Treatment and Transplant at the Barnabas Health Heart Center at Newark Beth Israel Medical Center, told NJ.com that he feels the heart can be a great teaching tool for people interested in learning more about the condition.
"I do think it would be a useful tool in the process of educating the community," said Zucker, who worked with Salberg. "Lisa is one of the individuals who takes matters into her own hands."