Anita Dorane, who has lived in Elmont since 1988, celebrated her 40th wedding anniversary with her husband, Joe, on Aug. 23, just four months after Anita received a heart transplant following decades of heart problems.
Her first experience with heart failure came a day after she delivered her daughter in 1992, when she began to cough continually and was unable to catch her breath. A cardiologist said she was suffering from heart failure, and doctors evaluated Dorane’s “ejection fraction,” the volume of blood her heart was pumping with each contraction. A regular measurement ranges between 40 and 50; hers was between 10 and 20.
“Back then, they were wondering what to do,” Dorane, 66, recalled.
After a host of tests and medications, she began to recover. “Little by little, with medication mostly, I started to get better,” she said. It took about a year, Dorane said, until she could take her children out for a walk. Even then, however, she was frequently short of breath and had to sit down, a symptom that would intensify years later.
“I was only 38, and I wanted to have more energy,” she said. “I wanted to do the things everyone else did.”
Dorane went on to have 20 or so healthy years, she said, during which she was able to raise her children, and frequently volunteered in the Elmont community. She was a special-education teacher for over two decades at Clara H. Carlson School in Elmont, but her symptoms lingered. “It was very difficult on the stairs,” she recounted. “I would always have to say to the kids, ‘OK, wait for Mrs. Dorane, she’ll be right there.’”
In 2010, she started feeling weak again. Her cardiologist suggested that she see a heart-transplant specialist at Mount Sinai Hospital in Manhattan, Dr. Anuradha Lala-Trindade. Dorane was evaluated by a team of cardiologists and surgeons who determined that she needed a heart transplant. In June 2019 she had a new valve implanted, but her heart remained weak.
“She really became pretty limited,” Lala said, despite the valve replacement.
Dorane said she was discouraged after the surgery did not help her as much as she expected. “That was the hardest part,” she said. “It didn’t give me the life that I wanted.”
Last December, doctors discovered a blood clot in her new valve. She was prescribed medication to treat it, and three months later the clot cleared up. But Dorane still didn’t feel well.
She was admitted to Mount Sinai in May, and received a temporary balloon pump to stabilize her heart while she waited for a donor heart. “She showed remarkable strength and resilience,” Lala said of Dorane’s weeks-long stay in the hospital prior to the transplant. She noted that Dorane waited for her new heart at a time when family visits were limited because of the coronavirus pandemic. She read books and exercised while she waited.
Two weeks after the pump surgery, Dorane was notified that she was eligible for a transplant. “I was like, ‘OK, let’s go. Why are you standing there? Let’s do this,’” she recalled asking the doctors. She was eager to get back to her life.
“She didn’t want to live that way,” Joe Dorane said.
The transplant was successful, and Anita began to recover quickly, walking to get her strength back during physical therapy. She did not like being limited, she said. “That was always a concern, wherever I went, whatever I did, that was always on my mind,” she said.
Her recovery continued over the summer. “I am able to do more,” she said.
But before she began to feel better in August, she had a series of setbacks. In June she returned to the hospital after experiencing an irregular heart rate. A month later she was back, when her fast-beating heart would not return to normal levels and could not walk without becoming out of breath. “It was almost like starting all over again,” Dorane said.
“She hasn’t had the easiest time afterwards,” Lala said. “There’s always going to be bumps. That’s the nature of life, and can be the nature of heart transplants.”
By August, however, Dorane said, she began to feel better than at any time since the transplant. She emphasized how happy she and Joe, 69, were to be able to celebrate their 40th wedding anniversary, Aug. 23 at a restaurant, given everything they’ve been through. “It’s just wonderful,” Dorane said.
“What I’ve been so struck by is the relationship she shares with her husband,” Lala said. “Her husband and her, their relationship, their togetherness … it’s been so touching to see that. “Joe, she said, has been Anita’s primary caregiver, preparing her medicine and providing moral support.
When Lala first met with the couple, they told her they loved to travel, and enjoyed their family. That was the life Anita wanted restored, Lala explained. “Getting to know them as a couple really gave me a vision of what I hoped to be able to restore for them by way of the transplant,” she said. “I hope she’s able to live her life to the fullest and enjoy this new heart.”
Referring to their anniversary, she added, “That always gave us a north star to look to. We ended every appoint with, ‘40 years is coming up, we’re going to get to 40.’”
“He was wonderful, doing whatever I needed,” Anita said of Joe.
“I think of Anita and Joe as one patient almost,” Lala said, “because they’re in it together, and I think that’s so beautiful, and it’s not really common.”
“We’re in better shape,” Joe said of the past few weeks, during which Anita has felt stronger. Asked how it felt for Anita to be able to celebrate their anniversary, he said simply, “Fabulous.”
“It was so nice to be able to be out and looking around a room with other people,” she said, “rather than staring at these walls in my house.”
She added that she hoped her story would inspire people to become organ donors. “It’s so important, because you give life to people,” Dorane said. “I don’t know what would have lied ahead for me without them making that donation, so sign the back of your license and become a donor.”