By LeRae Haynes –
The word heart is used in so many songs, expressions, and sentiments, and leading up to Valentine’s Day, it’s even more common to hear the word. With my whole heart, heartfelt, healing heart, two hearts as one, heartening, and I give you my heart, are just a few ways it is used.
That word, however, has a life-changing and powerful meaning for Williams Lake resident Michelle LaPlace, who waits moment to moment to hear that a heart is available that will save her life.
Laplace’s heart muscle is scarred as a result of a genetic condition called hypertrophic cardiomyopathy. This is the same condition that claimed her older brother’s life at a team swim at the pool in Williams Lake when he was 15 years old. It also cost her father his life when he was 51 years old.
“The only cure for the scarred and degenerated heart I have is a heart transplant, and for the past 18 months we have been preparing ourselves as best we can,” the 48-year-old explained.“I have made several trips to St. Paul’s Hospital to see the team of doctors specialized in cardiac care and transplant, undergone several more tests, and while evacuated during the wildfires this past summer, I became actively listed for transplant.”
This meant that the next available donor match could be her new heart. At the end of August this year, LaPlace and her husband Jamie received the call that there was a donor match, but after travelling to Vancouver, the surgeon determined that the donor heart was not strong enough to transplant.
“Today we continue to wait for the next call, and I return to Vancouver every six weeks to be monitored by the team,” she stated.
A long-time local resident, she is known as one of the many talented beauty professionals in Williams Lake, and is an avid community supporter and volunteer.
And now the tables have turned: the community is stepping forward to support her.
A Change of Heart, a fundraising event spearheaded by Cindy Nadeau and organized by Lawni Langstaff and Heather and Randy Pokeda, will take place on February 10 at Thompson Rivers University.
There will be live music, an auction, cocktails, and appetizers.
“This fundraiser means the world to me, and I’m really looking forward to it—a gathering of people I know,” said LaPlace.
“I have amazing support from local musicians, giving their time and their talent, as well as the wonderful donations for the silent auction.
“This is overwhelming, in a good way, and very humbling. It will be a good party to remind us all of how precious life really is. You never know: I could die waiting for a heart. That’s what we’re looking at. Every day is a gift.”
She said some of the most revealing lessons for her and Jamie have been the cost of medications, and that BC Ambulance does not transport transplant patients.
“That expense falls solely on the shoulders of the family affected, and the expenses of recovery are ours as well.
“What’s so devastating about this is, if I were to legally separate from my husband, most of these costs would be covered—travel, accommodations, and so on. The government would pick up the tab if I were a single woman,” she said.
“I will advocate to change this.”
After her heart transplant, LaPlace will be required to live in Vancouver in a suitable environment for up to a year. BC medical does not cover these costs, and they have been saving as much as they can in anticipation of the next ‘call.’
“I have not worked in almost two years, and we have been supported by many friends already—something that makes me feel so grateful,” she continued.
“I never truly understood how much even a small amount of support could make such a huge difference, but it does.
“All money raised at this upcoming event will help us so much, by alleviating the burden Jamie is trying to shoulder alone. It will allow us to focus on recovery without worry.
“We do not know what tomorrow holds, and to have the love and support of friends and the community provides me with the most incredible strength and courage,” she added. “So many want to help, and this is a way for them. What a great thing to do: have a party.”
She said the most important thing is that she’s so blessed to be so strong in faith. “I stand in the glory of God every single day. I’m living my life, and I’m not going down without a fight,” she said.
“We’ve got this. This will lead me to the goal in my life to share and to help others.”
Tickets, available through Michelle at (250) 392-0884 and at Bob’s Shoes in Williams Lake, are $25 and are limited. There are no minors at the event, and silent auction items can be donated by contacting Randy or Heather Pokeda at (250) 398-5265.
Update: On January 26, Michelle LaPlace received a new heart and is doing well, thanks to the skill of her medical team, the life-changing generosity of the donor and family, and the outpouring of support and love from her husband, family, and friends. At press time, she is up and around, has tackled stairs and chairs, and is being moved from the ICU to a regular hospital room soon. She says, “I’ve got this! Thank you for your love and prayers and thank you to my donor for this miracle of a gift. I will remain eternally grateful!”
LeRae Haynes is a freelance writer, song writer, community co-ordinator for Success by 6, member of Perfect Match dance band, and instigator of lots of music with kids.