01/25/04 — Heart patient hopes one day she will run

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Heart patient hopes one day she will run

By Phyllis Moore
Published in News on January 25, 2004 2:01 AM

Vickie Bartlett is 50 years old and her biggest goal is to run once in her life.

She was born with a severe congenital heart defect. Doctors did not give her parents a good prognosis that she would live past 16 years old.

"They chose not to have corrective surgery because of the high risk involved," said her younger sister, Beverly Sassano of Goldsboro. "Back then they didn't give much hope she'd live through the surgery."

As a result, Mrs. Bartlett has spent years in and out of hospitals for various treatments.

"All of our lives, I can remember she went up to Duke for treatment," Ms. Sassano said. "She's a very studious-type person, because she could not run and play. She was very quiet and read a lot."

In recent years, her condition began to deteriorate rapidly. Because of the weak heart, the lungs had to work much harder and "wore out early," Ms. Sassano said.

In 2001, she had to leave her job with the school system, where she had worked her way up from administrative assistant to the finance department.

After her doctor at Duke retired and so did her physician in Goldsboro, Mrs. Bartlett sought treatment in Chapel Hill. The change also turned the tide toward a brighter future.

"She learned her heart could be repaired with advanced technology," Ms. Sassano said. "But she was also found to be in need of a lung transplant."

The heart surgery was successful, and about a year ago, doctors persuaded her to be put on the list for a transplant.

"The situation had gotten really bad," Ms. Sassano said. "Doctors had told her that without the transplant she would have about six months to live."

Mrs. Bartlett mustered the courage to tell her husband, Vernon, during a trip to the beach when the call came that a donor had been found.

Three months ago, both lungs were transplanted, and she remains hospitalized in Chapel Hill. Ms. Sassano said the lungs were the closest match possible and that her sister is the first recipient in Chapel Hill history that has not experienced a rejection attempt.

That does not mean there have not been other problems.

"She has had three strokes since the transplant," Ms. Sassano said. "I've lost count of the surgeries at eight.

"They accidentally punctured a hole in her esophagus when they initially put her on life support and had to do emergency surgery. A germ got lost in her bloodstream. She's had every complication a person could have."

Ms. Bartlett is on physical therapy and rehabilitative therapy, and psychologists work with her to keep up her spirits. This past week, she progressed to walking 1,000 feet, the most she has managed since the operation.

"She remains very positive," Ms. Sassano said. "Her main goal in life is to run one time in her life."

Doctors have said she may soon be released, but because she is still on a feeding tube, she will need to be close to the hospital for daily visits. Bartlett has rented a place five minutes from the hospital.

The couple also have a home in Seven Springs, where Vernon runs his own business, a business that has been put on hold throughout the transplant process. In addition, Vernon had back surgery a few months before his wife's operations and was in a cast until November.

Ms. Sassano said the efforts to sustain her sister's life have taken their toll financially, as health insurance ran out along with additional money to pay medical bills.

Several fund-raisers are being planned to help defray some of these expenses. Ms. Sassano said the couple's church, Goldsboro Friends Meeting, has been wonderful.

Bernise Hill, church clerk, said the couple joined the church in 1996 and have taught the children's Bible school class and worked to raise money for youth projects. She said Mrs. Bartlett has served on several committees and was active in mission work, also serving as a lay speaker.

"This couple is a talented, loving, dedicated couple, always willing to give of their time and service and never expecting any compensation for their efforts," she said. "No task is too difficult for them to try."

A chicken pastry lunch is scheduled at the church at Salem Church Road and Guilford Street on Saturday, Feb. 21 from 11 a.m. until 2 p.m. and 4 to 7 p.m. Tickets are $5 each.

Ms. Sassano said a golf tournament is also being planned in the spring, with hopes for other events to raise money to help the Bartletts.

An account has been set up at Wachovia Bank for donations. The address is: Vickie Bartlett Lung Transplant Fund, c/o Wachovia Bank, 605 Berkeley Blvd., Goldsboro, N.C. 27534.

Ms. Sassano expressed her appreciation to the community for the prayers and support for her sister.

"She's a wonderful person, and the Lord spared her for a purpose," she said. "He's brought her through many adversities, and we're thankful to still have her here with us."