Pat Sutherland is well known for her fun sense of humor. She brought in bunny ears for all her nurses to wear for Easter before her heart transplant surgery in March 2016.
When Pat Sutherland was told she would need a heart transplant, she was stunned. “Time just stopped, and I couldn’t understand anything anymore,” said the 57-year-old. “It was like Charlie Brown’s teacher talking where all you could hear was blah, blah blah.”
Diagnosed with cardiomyopathy years before, a condition that makes it difficult for the heart to deliver blood to the body, Pat had undergone various treatments for more than 15 years before she was told a heart transplant would have to be the next step in her journey.
To see more of Pat's journey in her own words, view this video:
Pat said the decision to have the transplant surgery at Jewish Hospital was the right one, despite the distance between her hometown of Versailles and Louisville.
“Jewish was a good fit for me,” she said. “My husband, Maury, and I did our research and patient survivability and experience were the biggest factors. When we met all the doctors and everybody on the transplant team, you could tell they genuinely cared. That’s when I knew I’d really come to the right place.”
Fortunately, Pat only had to wait a few months for her heart, and the heart transplant was performed at Jewish Hospital on March 23, 2016.
“The day we found out about my new heart was the 15th anniversary of my dad’s death,” she said. “I felt like he was an angel floating around me. We were thrilled, hopeful, scared and thankful. The nurses and doctors were excited for us.”
Since transplant surgery day fell near Easter, Pat injected some humor by wearing bunny ears and bringing in candy for the staff. During her 60-day stay in the coronary care unit, waiting for her new heart, she bonded with her nurses and other hospital staff.
“We became like a family – we talked about their weddings and their kids. I looked forward to seeing them. No matter what kind of day they were having, they made sure I was doing OK; if I needed to go for a walk or if I needed to laugh.”
For her continuing recovery, Pat transitioned to KentuckyOne’s Healthy Lifestyle Center (HLC) at Saint Joseph Hospital in Lexington for cardiac rehab.
Pat said she loves the HLC because “it’s a fun crew. They laugh and cut up with you, encourage you if you’re having a hard time. It’s a good example of KentuckyOne Health – that knowledge and that know-how. [They guide me in] using the machines, how to care for yourself, tips for healthful living. Without them, I think I’d be lost. Now I know I have this new heart and I can function, and it gives you a new appreciation of everything around you.”
What’s life like for Pat now?
“I find joy in everything. I can sit on the couch with my dogs and just watch the grass grow. My husband and I talk about history, family, gossip and we find humor in a lot of things. I do think humor can carry you through. You can cry or you can laugh and it’s better to laugh.”
Pat does have to live with many dietary and lifestyle restrictions, including having to wear a surgical mask outside for at least a year.
But typical of Pat’s whimsical outlook, she decorated the masks with faces and holiday themes to make them funny and less intimidating for little children. “They’re fun; they’re conversation starters.”
Pat said she hopes one day to meet her donor’s family and express her appreciation. She said she and many family members are now donors because of her story.
“After all, how many times do you get that second chance to live?” Pat said. “And to thank people for everything they’ve done for you, and to thank the Lord for what a blessing life is?”
Pat's story is also featured in the February edition of One Health, KentuckyOne Health's community magazine.