- 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.”

One of her best friends, Shannon Buesch, said she’s inspired by Katrovitz’s optimism.

“I have never seen someone have a more positive attitude or have more faith,” said Buesch, 30. “She just kept believing and kept praying.”

Katrovitz’s friends surprised her in the hospital with matching tattoos of a heart and the word “faith” spelled out in the jagged lines of a heart monitor.

“She’s an inspiration to all of us,” Buesch said. “I can’t explain how amazing it is to see her great attitude every day.”

Katrovitz said she works hard to maintain perspective, even in difficult situations.

“I always try to keep positive,” she said. “I know it can always be worse.”

She said that on Dec. 11, two days before her birthday, the doctor called to tell her, “The LVAD isn’t doing that well and you’re going to need a new heart, like last week.”

“I kept my phone in my hand and I waited,” she said.

On her birthday, doctors called to say two donor hearts were waiting. She was in surgery that afternoon.

“Three days later, I woke up with a heart,” she said. “And that was it.”

Now Katrovitz says she’s getting back into the swing of things.

She visits the doctor every two weeks for a heart biopsy and check-up. She takes about 50 medications each day to keep her body from rejecting its new heart and help her get stronger after surgery.

Recovery is hard, but Katrovitz said spending the rest of her life with her son is worth the pain.

“I plan on taking things slow and just being there for him as much as I can,” she said. “I plan on just being the best mom I can and giving him all my attention.”

One of the biggest changes Katrovitz said she’s had to get used to is feeling her new heart beating in her chest.

“If you go without a heartbeat for a whole year, you get used to it,” she said. “Sometimes I wake up in the middle of the night because it feels so weird.”

___

Information from: The Courier, http://www.houmatoday.com

Copyright © 2016 The Washington Times, LLC.

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