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A change of heart for lakecity resident

Community rallies around hopeful heart transplant patient
Michelle Ball LaPlace and her husband Jamie are waiting hopefully for a call that will mean Michelle will receive a heart transplant. The costs of transport to and from Vancouver, as well as living in Vancouver while recovering from surgery will prove expensive and LaPlace’s friends are rallying around her by holding a fun night of live music and cocktails at Thompson Rivers University on Feb. 10. Submitted photo

A Change of Heart. It’s a common expression, but in this case it’s meant literally.

Michelle Ball LaPlace, 48, is known for her red hair, big smile and quirky sense of humour, but in 2016 she returned from a business trip to California feeling exhausted.

The results from the doctors visits have coloured her next few years.

LaPlace was diagnosed with hypertrophic cardiomyopathy and was in congestive heart failure. It’s a genetic heart condition that claimed her older brother’s life at 15 in 1982 and her father’s life in 1990.

“It was quite a blindside when I came home and discovered I was in congestive heart failure, to find out that my heart is just so scarred.”

LaPlace was tested for the condition through her youth and 20s, but thought she had remained unaffected.

The recent results changed that.

The only cure for the heart condition for LaPlace is a heart transplant.

LaPlace has been on an active waiting list for a transplant since the summer, which means if a heart becomes available LaPlace will receive a phone call and must catch on the next plane to Vancouver — all at her own expense.

Heart transplants are also time sensitive, which means that it’s important LaPlace makes it to the hospital as soon as possible.

LaPlace was called to Vancouver in August for a donor match, but as she was about to go into surgery, doctors determined the donor heart was not strong enough to transplant.

LaPlace returns to Vancouver every six weeks for check ups, and lives in anticipation of that phone call.

“Every time my phone rings I hold my breath like oh my god, is that it? It is quite anxious, because the sad reality is I could die waiting for a transplant.”

After undergoing the transplant, she’ll need to remain in Vancouver for a year near the hospital while her body adjusts to the new heart.

LaPlace and her husband, Jamie, are left to cover the costs of rent and living expenses in the expensive city, as well as transport to and from Vancouver.

As a result, friends and the community have rallied around LaPlace, organizing an evening of live music, appetizers, cocktails and an auction to help LaPlace with her costs.

“It’s difficult for me because I’m a strong, independent, willful young woman,” said LaPlace. “So, to allow yourself to say ‘I need help.’ It’s a huge challenge but at the same time it’s humbling to see that I am so loved by so many people.”

She said a friend, Tony Ciprani, who had also faced an organ transplant, reached out to her.

“He said, I know you, I know how independent you are and I know how stubborn and proud you are. You need to let those parts of your personality go, because the people who love you want to help and this is how we can help.”

The fundraising event is licensed and is being held at Thompson Rivers University, and will feature three bands through the evening: The Border Band, Lava Poodles and Perfect Match.

Friends of LaPlace are donating time and their services for the evening.

“I am overwhelmed with gratitude,” said LaPlace, adding that the outpouring of love from her friends has been amazing.

“It’s been overwhelming to discover these things because so often it’s when people pass that you see what they think and I’m granted the opportunity to find that out before that happens.”

Alleviating the financial burden will help her and her husband concentrate on recovery, said LaPlace, who dreams of becoming an inspirational speaker.

“This is just the tip of an iceberg that is the story of my life of overcoming challenges. I am strong in my faith and I believe that God has a plan for all of us and this is just part of his plan.

“This is something that I need to go through and will,” she said.

“As long as I remember, I’ve had this dream of standing on a stage talking to thousands of people about this message of hope.”

LaPlace said she works hard to stay positive.

“You can wake up and hate the whole world or you can wake up and say what adventures am I going to face today?”

Losing her father at a young age has taught her that life is precious, she said.

“It’s important to live and be present in the now, because realistically this is the only moment we have.”

The Change of Heart event will take place on Feb. 10 at 6 p.m. Tickets are $25 and are available in advance only at Bob’s Shoes & Apparel or through LaPlace at 250-392-0884.

“Thanks to everybody who is supporting this as an event. I’m looking forward to seeing everyone on the tenth and having a good time. It’s going to be a good party.”