- Associated Press - Monday, February 3, 2014

HOUMA, La. (AP) - The regular thump of a transplanted heart sometimes wakes Natashia Katrovitz from sleep.

It’s a welcome wake-up for someone who lived for nearly a year without a heartbeat and, every four hours, had to change the battery pack for the pump that kept her blood circulating.

In December, on her 28th birthday, the Houma resident received the gift of a lifetime.

“They called and said ‘Natashia, we have a heart for you,’” she said. “It was like the best birthday ever.”

When she was 18 months old, Katrovitz was diagnosed with Wilms tumor, a rare kidney cancer. The treatment weakened her heart.

“They said by the time I was 18, I’d need a new heart,” she said. “But I really lived a normal life.”

She had a son, Alexander, and devoted her time to caring for him. She worked as an interior decorator and spent time with friends, like any woman in her 20s.

But at 26, everything changed.

“I thought I just had the flu or something,” she said, “but I got to the doctor on a Wednesday and by Sunday, I’d had 11 surgeries.”

Katrovitz’s heart was so weak that on Jan. 3, 2013, her doctors implanted a pump called a left ventricular assist device to keep it going. Some heart pumps are pulsed but hers was the sort that keeps up a continuous flow of blood, leaving her without a heartbeat.

The LVAD uses a battery pack which Katrovitz had to replace every four hours.

“I never got to sleep a full night and I never got to really go out for a long time,” she said. “I always had to get up and change the batteries.”

During hurricanes or even just bad thunderstorms, she and her son had to evacuate to be sure she’d have electricity to power her device.

She couldn’t even swim or take a full bath in case the LVAD wire got wet and malfunctioned.

“It was hard,” she said. “It was just really hard.”

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