New Rockford Transcript - Official Newspaper of Eddy County since 1883

New Year, New Heart

Cartwright receives heart transplant on New Year's Eve


January 6, 2020

Submitted photo

Steve Cartwright with his nephews Mathew, Easton and Holden just a few days before he was admitted into the hospital for acute heart failure.

New Rockford native Steven Cartwright, son of Kevin and Vikki Cartwright, had a rollercoaster of a year, capped by Christmas in the hospital and a New Year's Eve with a new heart.

Steven's journey began in August when he developed a cough that wouldn't go away. He visited his family doctor, who ordered an x-ray and referred him to a cardiologist. He was diagnosed with acute heart failure, as his enlarged heart was not pumping well. Although the cause is unknown, the doctors believe it may be from a virus.

An assistant manager at the Wal-Mart Store in Cloquet, Minn., where he lives, Steve tried to keep working, but went on medical leave after Thanksgiving. His health deteriorated in early December, and his body filled with fluid. He was admitted into the nearby Duluth hospital.

On Dec. 19, he was airlifted from Duluth to the University of Minnesota Hospital in Minneapolis, where he underwent a series of tests. His heart specialist informed the family that it was likely Steve wouldn't leave the hospital without open heart surgery, either a left ventricular assist device or a heart transplant.

The next day, Steve had blood clots in both sides of his heart and was put on blood thinners to dissolve the clots. After reviewing the test results, his medical team submitted a request to his insurance company for approval of a heart transplant.

On Monday, Dec. 23, he was transferred to Mayo Clinic Hospital, Saint Mary's Campus because his medical insurance required that his heart transplant be performed at a designated Center of Excellence. Mayo Clinic is the nearest.

After his transfer to Mayo that night, Steve had arrhythmias that resulted in CPR and defibrillation. A balloon pump was installed to help his heart function better, and a heart biopsy was done.

He spent Christmas in the Rochester hospital with his girlfriend Jenny Schoenrock and family members from both sides surrounding him. Excess body fluid continued to be an issue, and regular changes to his meds were needed. They celebrated the holiday in limbo, still waiting for approval from his insurance to be placed on the transplant list.

On Friday, Dec. 27, he was officially placed on the heart transplant list. He then settled into a rearranged room to wait for his new organ.

The family found out late Monday that a compatible heart was found, after just three days on the waitlist. The surgery was originally scheduled for early Tuesday morning, but was delayed due to a winter storm. Steve went to the operating room around 1 p.m. on New Year's Eve day. His surgery began shortly after 3.

Then, as the ball dropped at Times Square in New York, signaling the start of a new year, Steven was wheeled into the ICU for recovery after receiving his new heart.

Vikki says he will need to stay in Rochester for at least three months, but they are hopeful that his body will respond well to the new organ and he will fully recover. He is expected to spend 2-3 weeks in the hospital, and once discharged will have regular appointments at Mayo and 24-hour care from Jenny in Rochester. Meanwhile, the medical team has ordered further tests to determine whether his condition is genetic or was caused by a virus. They have already ruled out a congenital defect, according to Vikki.

Submitted photo

Steve and his girlfriend Jenny at Thanksgiving, the last day he was able to work.

"This has been a crazy two weeks with many emotions. It still seems unbelievable that Steve needed a transplant and that doctors can actually perform this surgery," Vikki wrote on his CaringBridge site shortly after midnight on Jan. 1, 2020. She said they are grateful for Jenny, who has been with him the entire time.

Even Steve's nurses in the ICU at Mayo were amazed at how quickly the process progressed, as usually patients wait months for a compatible heart.

"It's a great new year," Vikki said Wednesday afternoon as she sat in the waiting room of the hospital looking out the window, with a wide smile on her face.

Steve is a member of the NR-S Class of 2009. Readers can follow his recovery and send messages of support on his CaringBridge page, Planning for a benefit is underway. More to come on that once a date has been set.


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