Cookies to help local awaiting transplants

Duane Hicks

With Valentine’s Day less than a month away, Tess Coish of Tess’ Kitchen here once again is taking her heart-shaped cookie cutter out to help a good cause.
Coish now is taking orders for cookies until Feb. 11, with proceeds this year to go to help local woman Samantha (Sam) Pearson, who has been in Ottawa for more than a year awaiting a second heart transplant and now a kidney one.
“This is the best time do it because she’s looking for a heart, right?” reasoned Coish, who is selling the heart-shaped Valentine cookies for $1 each.
“I’m happy to do this for Sam,” she added. “She’s such a nice girl.”
Coish only put out the word on Facebook on Monday night–and already has been flooded with orders.
“I was really amazed . . . I think they’re hungry to help,” she remarked.
“If I make at least $2,000, it’s at least something to help her,” added Coish, noting those do not want to buy cookies are still welcome to make a donation anyway.
To order cookies, call 274-0787 or message her through her Facebook page (Tess’ Kitchen).
Pearson currently is in Ottawa, where she has been here since Dec. 31, 2017. Most of her time has been spent at the University of Ottawa Heart Institute, although she has had a few small trips back home to Fort Frances for the benefit of her mental health.
Much has changed for Pearson over the last year.
“When I left Fort Frances a year ago, you may have seen me out about in the community doing several different things, such as cooking with children at a few locations, at ‘Healthy Food Box’ days, at the community garden with the kids’ club, at the schools training a group of children to be Playground Activity Leaders in Schools (PALS), supporting the high school GSA group, teaching a variety of topics, attending several meetings that fall into the chronic disease prevention column, and then some,” she told the Times early this morning.
“I was all over the place and I loved it.
“I [also] was the local health educator in Chronic Disease Prevention at the Northwestern Health Unit; my dream job at the greatest place with the most awesome co-workers,” added Pearson, noting she especially misses health promoter Elaine Fischer.
As some may remember, Pearson had a life-saving heart transplant back in October, 2011.
“I had a rare fatal disease called giant cell myocarditis that took me out in a matter of six months, from being healthy to being a week away from dying,” she recalled.
“My organs were failing, I was in the coronary care unit at the University of Ottawa Heart Institute, without at diagnosis, but the doctors knew I needed a new heart.
“The most incredible gift I have every received came to me on Oct. 22, 2011,” Pearson said. “I had the surgery without a doubt in my mind that anything would go wrong. I laid my life in the hands of the transplant team at UOHI.
“After surgery and a few little bumps in the road, I was off to start my new journey.”
At that time, the community came together to support Pearson in a way she could not have imagined.
“I was so grateful and I could not believe the amount of support I received then, and here I am, seven years later with the same amazing support,” she remarked.
“Thank you, Fort Frances. I love being a part of this community and I hope that I can help support the community, too.”
Unfortunately, Pearson now is awaiting another heart transplant –and now a kidney transplant, as well. Six-seven years after her initial transplant, she started having symptoms of right-sided heart failure again.
Her body was producing antibodies specific to her donor heart and slowly causing damage.
“I was experiencing Antibody Mediated Rejection [AMR],” Pearson noted. “Basically my body was acting like an overprotective dad, sitting on the front porch with his shotgun, examining all of the new friends his daughter had made, so he came up with a way to get rid of each of these new friends–even the good guys.
“They simply didn’t belong in his family.”
Pearson began to feel poorly and the doctors at the heart institute were watching her case closely until they saw her heart function was getting worse and they had to figure out why.
“I have gone through three different treatments–Rituximab (chemo), rabbit ATG, and IVIG,–all paired with a large dose of steroids and five rounds of plasmapheresis,” she explained.
“Each treatment was followed by a heart biopsy and sometimes additional testing, such as PET scans, CT scans, and a lot of blood work.
“The treatments didn’t work at first, then I had some luck,” she added. “But then my body just worked harder to make more antibodies against my donor heart, so now we are working on maintaining the level of antibodies in my blood and preventing infection so that I may remain on the transplant list for a re-do transplant.”
The bottom line is Pearson now needs a new heart, as well as a new kidney.
“I have been given the option to go home and spend the rest of my life with my family, as this is going to be a very difficult surgery on my weak body and I could be waiting years for a matching heart and kidney due to my big strong antibodies,” Pearson said.
“I am not ready to give up,” she stressed. “It is hard to see the light through all of this but I am still fighting and hanging on.
“My week consists of three days of dialysis that last four hours long, one-two visits with the psychologist, and cardiac pre-hab twice a week, where I go to exercise while being monitored by physiotherapists and a nurse.”
She sometime has to meet with different doctors, have a procedure or treatment, or do extra blood work during the week, as well.
“I am super-tired so I have a lot of naps,” Pearson remarked.
She is renting an apartment on the hospital campus to make it easier for her to get to and from her appointments. Sometimes she needs a wheelchair.
She also spends time at home reading, stretching, meditating, caring for her plants, listening to music, and chatting with her friends and family via Facetime, phone calls, or text messages.
“I am always around if you would like to drop me a message,” Pearson said. “I may not respond right away or it may take forever, but know that I appreciate all of the messages I receive and I try my best to reply.
“I have a lot of people wanting to know how I am doing or what is happening over here.
“Please just send me a message,” she added. “Some days I go without a single message all day but my friends and family are getting a bunch of questions.
I am here, don’t be afraid to message me.
“The only thing I ask is for you to wait for my updates on social media in stead of asking how I am doing,” Pearson said. “Things change a lot so I just like to give a big update instead of little ones.
“Feel free to follow me on Facebook or Instagram,” she added. “I [also] have my apartment address on there if you feel like sending me a note; who doesn’t love old-fashioned mail, right?”
Pearson admitted she doesn’t know what the future holds.
“I do not have any timelines, nor do I know when I will be able to come home,” she said. “All I do know is that it will either be after I recover from transplant surgery or if I am removed from the list for good, due to my body deteriorating.”
Pearson, meanwhile, is urging people to take the time to check online to see if they are an organ donor (www.beadonor.ca for Ontario residents).
“Have that conversation with your family because in the end, they have the final say,” she noted.
“The best feeling is when I get a message from someone saying they signed their donor cards because they heard my story, or I reminded them to go check online and they were surprised to see that they were not signed up when they thought they were,” she added.

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