She couldn’t nurse, carry or pick Zuri up like she had her other three children. His older sisters, Talatha and Augusta, along with his older brother, Paul, had to help their mom care for him. And while it was winter time, she had to have the furnace turned off — she couldn’t breath with the heat turned on.
“That was the strangest thing,” Turner, of Metropolis, said of not being able to care for her newborn. “I wasn’t bouncing back like I did with the rest of them.”
She talked about it with her pediatrician’s nurse. They blamed it on nervousness. Meanwhile, Turner began swelling and was having trouble walking — things weren’t getting better.
After months of seeing the wrong doctor, she finally went to see Massac Memorial Hospital cardiologist Dr. Bharat Patel, who ordered a stress test. “They put me on a treadmill to see my endurance and how I could fast go — I couldn’t even make it,” she said.
She was put on Lasix for fluid retention and was sent to Paducah for a heart biopsy, which showed her heart was weak and enlarged. “I went back to Dr. Patel and he said he couldn’t do anything more for me,” Turner recalled.
While Patel had made arrangements for her to go to a specialist in St. Louis, “maybe for a year, I lingered and didn’t want go up there,” she said.
She made her first trip in 2007 and received a pacemaker, a defibrillator and different medications. She was in and out of hospital, retaining a lot of fluid and having a hard time walking, talking and breathing.
In 2009, her heart started speeding up and “giving me a lot of stress — more than what it had been. I’d pass out and they’d take me to the doctor. I remember sitting at the table, talking to Zuri and all of the sudden I felt my head just feel hot, just heated.”
Turner experienced several similar passing out episodes. Medical professionals told her if it wasn’t for the pacemaker and the defibrillator, she wouldn’t have made it.
That same year, Turner was sent to Ann Arbor, Mich., where she had her mitral valve and tricuspid repaired. While it helped some, it didn’t solve the problem.
In mid-2011, her Ann Arbor heart doctor sent her to Oak Lawn, Ill. to receive a left ventricular assist device (LVAD) and a trachea. According to the webmd website, the LVAD is a kind of mechanical heart that helps the heart do its job of pumping oxygen-rich blood throughout the body. She was in Oak Lawn for five and a half months while her children, Augusta, Paul and Zuri, remained in Metropolis. Her eldest, Talatha, had moved to Maryland by this time. She came home with a wound VAC in April 2012, around Easter time and a month before Paul graduated from high school.
But she was still having problems — she was getting infections from the LVAD that kept having to be debrided and her blood count was low, causing her to need several blood transfusions. After so many trips north, Turner asked to be transfered closer to home. They sent her to Dr. Gregory Ewald and the transplant team at Barnes-Jewish Hospital in St. Louis.
And like with Oak Lawn, Turner was making frequent trips to St. Louis because her blood levels were low. She received more transfusions and got another infection from the LVAD.
Then, in late-July 2012, “I was in the hospital, that was the crazy thing, I went up there for a blood transfusion because they said my levels were low,” Turner recalled.
That’s also when she got the call that changed her life.
“They told me: ‘We cannot do any more for you. You’re getting too many infections. If you don’t take the heart, you’ll continue to get more and more infections.’”
On July 31, 2012, after 14 hours in surgery, Turner received her new heart.
It was also Zuri’s 12th birthday.
“That was amazing,” she said of the coinciding of the dates.
Turner remained in St. Louis after the transplant until Sept. 8, 2012. When she returned home, it was with a PICC line and a wound VAC.
She received care from her family — Augusta and Paul gave her medicine each time she came home — and TIP nurses over the next two months. It was just before Thanksgiving 2012 when her TIP nurse told Turner, “We won’t be seeing you anymore,” she recalled, her emotions getting the best of her at that memory. “They said I was not gonna have the wound VAC or PICC line anymore.”
She got rid of the LVAD and PICC line in December 2012. She remains on anti-rejection medicine.
Turner has been back in the hospital twice since her transplant. The first was in March 2013 for a week when her white blood count became low enough she couldn’t fight infections. The second was for three days prior to Father’s Day 2013.
For Turner, the days before and since her transplant have been filled with their highs and lows.
“People think that it’s easy because you’ve got a heart transplant. It’s not, it’s hard, it’s been difficult and there’s depression,” she said.
But, “you do get a second chance on life,” she continued. “I’m doing things I haven’t done in 12 years. I said last year I wanted to ride a bicycle and swim — I haven’t yet, but I did get to walk, that was something that I really wanted to do.”
Walking, along with a sensible diet, has been one of the main ways she’s stayed healthy since her transplant. She also keeps in almost daily contact with her doctors and is able to contact them day or night if anything goes wrong.
“The simple things are what get me through,” Turner said, from being able to cook a full meal to mopping the floor to picking something up. “Just walking in the mall was the weirdest thing to me. Usually I just hated and dreaded it because I’d walk so far and have to stop — walking all the way in the mall without stopping was just amazing.”
She’s also able to walk from the parking lot into a store. Pre-transplant, whoever was driving would have to get as close as possible and let her out. She’s also able to walk into a room with ease and sit down without being short of breath.
“Being able to do things on your own — not being dependent on somebody else,” she said, has been one of the greatest outcomes from her transplant.
To celebrate her one year transplant anniversary, Turner asked her friends and family to send or give her a card. Her goal was 50; she received 75. Her church family at Broadway Church of Christ in Metropolis also held a celebration to commemorate the anniversary. Attendees were asked to describe Turner with one word — courage, faith, strength and encouragement were used several times.
“When all this stuff happened, I kept on going,” Turner said. “The kids were busy, so I had to be busy, too. I didn’t really stop. I just kept on going. I mighta been a little bit slower, but I kept on going. . . . The children have taken care of themselves beyond measure. It’s amazing.”
Turner said she wouldn’t have made it through the last several years if not for her children, her family, her church family, her friends far and near and Linda Wetzel.
“I worried about those kids more than anything in the world, and she was so good to me,” Turner said of Wetzel, who not only helped her family take care of her children but transported her to Oak Lawn and St. Louis and spearheaded fundraisers.
“I thought everything she was doing was on her own, but the community heard about everything she had done and they stepped in. They’ve been really good to me.”
And Turner would be amiss if she didn’t acknowledge her greatest Help. “My Lord and my Savior has been the best,” she said, noting it’s prayer that helps her get through all of this.
“Pray — and understand things aren’t always what you want them to be,” she said. “I’ve got to remember I might have a bad day one day but a new day is coming.”