Natalie's Everyday Heroes: Cardiac nurse shares personal experience with patients after receiving heart transplant of her own

NOW: Natalie’s Everyday Heroes: Cardiac nurse shares personal experience with patients after receiving heart transplant of her own

WAUWATOSA, Wis. (CBS 58) -- A cardiac nurse at Froedtert recently found herself taking on the roll of patient, when she discovered she needed a heart transplant. Lauryl Schaffer had a successful surgery this summer, and now she’s using her newfound perspective to help patients in the same situation.

An adorable video of Schaffer’s 3-year-old granddaughter, Nora, sums it up best.

“New heart, new start. Hooray,” Nora can be heard cheering.

It’s also a mantra Schaffer’s whole family adopted this summer. Her niece, Emma, had T-shirts made for everyone, bearing the slogan.

“They arrived at my son's house as a surprise on the day I got my transplant,” Schaffer said.

Even the dogs put on the shirts for moral support. The transplant has been life-changing.

“I didn't realize how badly I felt for the last several decades until I got a new heart and it beats normally,” Schaffer said.

We interviewed her over Zoom. She’s feeling great, but is limiting the number of people she sees. And Schaffer has special a perspective about her surgery. She’s been a cardiac nurse at Froedtert for almost 17 years.

Her heart problems weren’t new. She’s had cardiomyopathy for years.

“It was found after my youngest son was born and he is now 32, almost 33,” she said.

It was a colleague, Dr. Nunzio Gaglianello, who noticed something was wrong this spring.

“Lauryl hadn't seen me in clinic for about a year,” Dr. Gaglianello said. “And she had essentially reached out and said, hey, they want me to go work a Covid unit and I said, no, you can't do that.”

So, he asked her to come to his office so he could sign a form exempting her from that assignment.

“I walked to the hub where his office is, and was short of breath,” Schaffer explained. “And he said, I think you need to see me in office.”

Schaffer has advanced heart failure. That diagnosis came in March, and on July 26th, Schaffer got a new heart. A process she and Dr. Gaglianello said happened very quickly.

He said he’s never had a professional relationship with someone who then became a patient.

“It was a little different, knowing somebody beforehand,” he said. “Not that we don't dot our I's and cross our T's for everybody, but there was definitely a lot more running it by your partners, just really making sure you're not missing anything.”

Schaffer said her recovery is going well, and she started working part-time from home in October.

“I actually feel good,” she exclaimed.

With her new heart and her new start, she’s sharing her valuable experience with patients.

“The transplant team can tell you what it's going to be like, but until you got through it, you don't actually know,” she said.

Schaffer said she’s exercising at least five times a week, and she’s looking forward to a time she can get back to the working in the hospital.

If you’d like to nominate someone for Natalie’s Everyday Heroes, send Natalie a message at nshepherd@cbs58.com.

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