Prior to undergoing a heart transplant on August 31, 2015, Sharon Sanford couldn’t even walk around her block; let alone hike the Wild Pacific Trail.
Now, dozens of scars and a wondrous year later, the Ucluelet local says the trail is her favourite place to be. Her new heart is strong, and when she walks the trail with her friends or her husband, it keeps a steady pace.
“I feel like a kid. I feel like I’m getting to experience all these new things,” she said.
“Sometimes people look at me and wonder, What are you so excited about? Everybody just takes so many things for granted.”
Leading up to the transplant, Sanford spent a lifetime battling a heart condition called dilated cardiomyopathy. The disease caused her heart to enlarged to such a point where it couldn’t pump blood anymore.
In 1996, she had her first heart attack, which required her to have a cardioverter defibrillator implanted into her chest. She was only 23 at the time.
Then, last summer, her condition plummeted, bumping her to the top of the transplant list. As luck would have it, a heart became available almost immediately.
She travelled with her husband Martin to St. Paul’s Hospital in Vancouver for the surgery.
Martin recalls the doctors telling them that the heart transplant would be a new way of life.
“I knew what she couldn’t do that everyone else could do for years now,” he said.
“I’ve seen it. I knew it was going to be big…I didn’t know it [the surgery] was going to go so smoothly. I didn’t really picture it a success a year ago.”
By October, only a short month after the procedure, Sanford received approval from doctors for her healthy heart class.
The rest, as they say, is history.
“Now I can get up and go, go, go,” Sanford said.
Her transplant has given her the freedom to do all sorts of physical activities she was never able to do before.
She’s hiking, mushroom picking, practicing yoga, training with Kara McAvoy from BBK and she’s slowing crossing off items from an Adventure List she dreamt up post transplant.
“I went whale watching with Subtidal Adventures. It was fantastic. I’d never been able to go before. Even the whole zodiac ride would have been impossible because I wouldn’t have been strong enough to cope with the whole trip,” she said.
Louis Rouleau from West Coast Wild Adventures arranged to take her on the zipline course.
“We had talked to each other at Ukee Days,” Rouleau told the Westerly News.
“That’s the first time I had seen her after her transplant. She had told me ziplining was on her bucket list of things to do so I said, ‘Yeah let’s do it.’”
Her new heart can withstand exhilarating activities like ziplining, but it takes longer than normal for it to calm down afterwards.
“Her heart could start racing 15-minutes or even 20-minutes after the excitement. The nerves that used to be attached to her old heart, when they put the new heart in they don’t necessarily grow back,” Martin explained. “Those are the nerves that control when your heart races because of fear or adrenaline.”
Sanford wants to hike Mt. Ozzard, walk to the blowhole and hike to the bomber plane. She’s ultimately working towards building up enough strength to conquer the Alexander Murray Trail in her hometown of King’s Point, Newfoundland next summer. The trail is a moderate 9-km with 2,200 stairs, going up and down. Visitors come from all over the world to hike it, but you can bet the boat that Sanford will be the only one taking it on with a new heart.