Published: Dec. 28, 2007
Updated: Sept. 16, 2010
Most newborns come in tiny, cooing bundles with the promise of a long and bright future ahead.
But in Karen Rosner’s case, the future didn’t look so bright. Rosner was born with a congenital heart defect. She had blue fingernails, toenails, and lips. Doctors told Rosner’s mother that she had double pneumonia at just two weeks old.
Her parents were told she wouldn’t live past her first birthday. She underwent open-heart surgeries at nine weeks and nine months old, and remained in a Boston hospital throughout most of her first year of life. Close to her first birthday, she was finally able to go home from the hospital and spend time with her family.
Rosner survived past her first year, but she spent her entire childhood between home and the hospital. She had had three more open-heart surgeries by the time she was 12 years old. At that age, she underwent what she believed to be her last open-heart surgery. Doctors told her parents, though, that Rosner might not live longer than 12 hours following surgery.
She proved them wrong. A year after the surgery, Rosner’s surgeon expressed surprise at her recovery. “My 12 hours aren’t up yet!” she told him.
With that spunky attitude, Rosner made it through school, finished college, and had a child. However, she continued to have heart rhythm problems throughout those years. She had a pacemaker implanted in December 1985, and her baby was born nine weeks early in 1990. Rosner also had two strokes -- the first one in 1993 and the other in 1995. In addition, she was confronted with several bouts of bacterial endocarditis and her sixth open-heart surgery in November 1998.
In August 1999 Rosner moved to Raleigh with her son Eric. Two weeks later she checked in to Duke University Medical Center with endocarditis and stayed there for six weeks. Her problems subsided for a few years, but while at work in July 2003, she had a cardiac arrest.
Emergency medical technicians gave her CPR and ultimately shocked her back to life. Rosner had a defibrillator implanted in her heart, and again, things were looking up.
All was well until December 2005, when Rosner mentioned to her cardiologist that she didn’t feel right when she exerted herself. The doctor performed a stress exercise test and found out that Rosner’s blood pressure dropped when she exercised. After a heart catheterization, Rosner discovered that her heart was working at only 28 percent.
Since she was not having any other symptoms, cardiac rehabilitation was prescribed to see if Rosner could strengthen her heart on her own. In January 2006, during her third session of rehab, her heart began beating quickly and irregularly, and she ended up in the emergency room.
Rosner was sent to Duke and admitted for testing. That’s when doctors decided to evaluate Rosner for a heart transplant. She was accepted and placed on the transplant list in February 2006.
On April 21, 2006, after a lifetime of heart problems, Rosner received a new heart.
Since then, she has worked as a volunteer for Duke Heart Center and Carolina Donor Services. Thanks to her new heart, Rosner has more energy now then ever before. For the first time in her life, she has rosy cheeks and pink fingernails, toenails, and lips. And her 12 hours? They still aren’t up.