By Beth Penney
Mary Alicia Sherren is from Mount Pearl, but she hasn’t been home in over a year.
Right now, she’s in a hospital bed at the University of Ottawa Heart Institute awaiting an HVAD — a mechanical heart pump.
If the pump is successful, she will be eligible for a heart transplant.
“It all started after a completely separate surgery in January 2016,” Sherren recalled.
“The recovery time was only supposed to be six weeks, so I knew there was something wrong when I was still feeling sick.”
Sherren was going back and forth between both St. Clare’s Hospital and the Health Sciences Centre in St. John’s for months, trying to get some answers about what was wrong with her.
At the time she says she was so weak she couldn’t carry her laptop back and forth between work and home, because it was too heavy.
Finally, she was told it was a thyroid problem. She was given medication and was told she would be feeling better in a week.
“I had plans to go to my friend’s wedding in Toronto,” she said. “So, me being me, I decided to go.”
During the trip, friends kept telling Sherren she should go home. She was too weak to walk, and her husband, Bernard French, had to push her in a wheelchair everywhere they went.
“My doctor called me and said, ‘Your kidneys are starting to fail. Where are you?’” she said.
She returned to Newfoundland, got some clothes together and went to the hospital.
“I packed a suitcase and told them that I wasn’t leaving until they figured out what was wrong with me,” Sherren said.
Within an hour she was told she would most likely have go to the Heart Institute in Ottawa for treatment.
“I’ll always remember the doctor telling me that my heart was very, very, very, very weak,” she said. “That’s when I found out I would need a heart transplant.”
She had a blood clot in her heart.
The ejection fraction of her heart, the measurement of how well the heart is pumping, was 10 per cent. The normal rate is between 50 and 75 per cent.
Finally, on Oct. 1 2016, Sherren was airlifted from the Health Sciences Centre in St. John’s to the University of Ottawa Heart Institute, where she’s been keeping patients and nurses in high spirits, and is known for her sparkly slippers.
It’s been a long wait, but within the next two weeks she’s scheduled to receive an HVAD mechanical heart pump.
Meanwhile, she is not eligible for a heart transplant.
“There was a heart for me in July,” she said, “but they are trying to figure out what’s wrong with my blood at the moment.”
Currently, she says the pressure in her heart is so high, she wouldn’t survive a heart transplant.
“I’m enjoying every day like it’s my last. Because for me, it very well could be.”
“In a perfect world, I get this artificial heart, it drops my pressures and I will be put back on the list for a heart transplant,” she said.
“If the pump doesn’t fix my pressures or my blood, then I’ll live about 10 years.”
Sherren says if neither option works out, she has about a year to live.
“I’m enjoying every day like it’s my last,” she said. “Because for me, it very well could be.”
But her health problem hasn’t stopped her from enjoying life — during her time in Ottawa she’s seen Cirque du Soleil, attended a WWE match and had lunch with St. John’s South—Mount Pearl MP Seamus O’Regan.
Still, Sherren said she misses Newfoundland dearly.
“I miss my family,” she said. “But both my mom and nephew were up to visit me.”
Her mother, Pauline Sherren, was in Ottawa for Thanksgiving, and brought some salt meat with her.
“We had Jiggs’ dinner — it was amazing,” Sherren said, laughing.
Sherren is also a cancer survivor, which may have something to do with her positive attitude and determination.
“I’ve been cancer free for 11 years,” she said. “I’ve definitely learned to be a fighter.”