Wyoming woman heading back to work after THIRD heart transplant
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A detention officer who nearly died as a child says she feels good about God testing her as she gets to grip with her fourth heart.

A detention officer is nearly ready to return to the beat after recovering from her third heart transplant operation in as many decades.

Jenn Green, 49, galvanized Wyoming as a child when thousands of people helped raise money to make her the state’s youngest ever heart transplant patient.

The girl from Gillette was days from death when she went under the knife as a 13-year-old in what was still a pioneering procedure and required an intervention from the state’s governor.

Doctors thought she might have another 15 years to live, but 36 years later she is putting her fourth heart through its paces after the ‘best, fastest recovery I’ve had’.

‘The most important thing I’ve learned is how much God has been watching over me, she said, ‘He’s really tested me for a long time, but now I’m at the point where I just feel really good about that.’

Jenn Green, 49, of Gillette, Wyoming, is preparing to go back to work after receiving her third heart transplant  in as many decades

Jenn Green, 49, of Gillette, Wyoming, is preparing to go back to work after receiving her third heart transplant  in as many decades  

She says God 'really tested me for a long time, but now I'm at the point where I just feel really good about that'

She says God ‘really tested me for a long time, but now I’m at the point where I just feel really good about that’

Jenn with a colleague at the Campbell County Sheriff's Department where she has spent her career as a detention officer

Jenn with a colleague at the Campbell County Sheriff’s Department where she has spent her career as a detention officer

Green was a happy, healthy schoolgirl when she began to fall ill with flu-like symptoms at the age of 13.

Doctors were first dismissive and then baffled by her symptoms until it was discovered that her heart had become abnormally large.

She continued to deteriorate but medics struggled to believe that someone so young could have serious heart disease.

‘They just kept telling me that I was going be OK and that I might need a transplant in, like, 10 years or so,’ she told Cowboy State Daily.

‘And then it just kept getting worse, so we finally went to a different doctor in Casper, and he sent me straight from there to Denver. They pretty much put me on the transplant list right then.’

At the University of Colorado Hospital, she was finally given a correct diagnosis of viral cardiomyopathy, where an ordinary viral infection can eventually lead to serious heart failure.

‘I deteriorated so fast, which was really unusual for someone my age, so they put me at the top of the transplant list because I was so bad,’ she said.

‘It was pretty traumatizing and confusing, because obviously I’d always been healthy up to that point. ‘Then I pretty much was just sick all the time. I was throwing up and by the time I was in Denver. I was sleeping all the time.

‘At one point, I was just ready to die.’

Jenn (pictured left with younger sister Heather) was a happy 13-year-old when she was first diagnosed with heart disease

Jenn (pictured left with younger sister Heather) was a happy 13-year-old when she was first diagnosed with heart disease  

She says her mom Cynthia (left) has been with her every step of the way

She says her mom Cynthia (left) has been with her every step of the way 

'You just have to ask yourself, 'Do you want to live or do you want to die?' she said

‘You just have to ask yourself, ‘Do you want to live or do you want to die?’ she said 

Without health insurance to cover a transplant her prospects looked grim until word got out to the folks back home and an extraordinary fundraising effort got underway.

Local newspapers and TV stations took up the cause, with one local DJ staying awake for the duration of a 60-hour sponsored radio broadcast.

A massive $90,000 was raised but it took an intervention by then Governor Mike Sullivan extending the state’s Medicaid scheme to cover heart transplants for a single month, for the operation to go ahead.

The operation was a success but she soon found that her troubles had only started.

‘It was hard, because you come out of this surgery and it feels like you’ve been hit by a truck because you just had your chest broken open,’ she said.

‘And then they’re telling me how to take all these medications and that I need to get back in shape.

‘I would say that was probably the hardest recovery because it was all new to me.’

After a year of intensive rehab she was ready to take on the world again and got a job in a local grocery store after finishing college.

But heart transplants are never straight-forward and in 1995 doctors realized that her body was slowly starting to reject the new heart and she was diagnosed with coronary artery disease.

‘It’s really typical of transplant patients to get coronary artery disease and they still don’t really know why that is,’ she said.

Her careful lifestyle meant it was another 15 years before she had to return to the transplant waiting list and she took a job as a detention deputy at the Campbell County Sheriff’s Department in the meantime.

‘At first I didn’t notice, and then when I finally did start noticing it there were times I would wake up at night and couldn’t breathe very well,’ she said.

‘And it just kept happening as my heart was getting worse.

‘I remember thinking, ‘Do I want to do this again?’ because the first time was so hard.

‘But you just have to ask yourself, ‘Do you want to live or do you want to die?’ I had a great job and I had great friends and great family, and so I wasn’t ready to die.’

Some patients wait years to find a suitable donor, but Jenn was just two months on the list before she was called in.

‘I’ve been pretty fortunate,’ she said.

‘Because of my size — I’m more petite — it opens you up to more options.

‘If you have a guy that’s 6 feet tall and 300 pounds, he has to have a heart that functions for his size, so the donor pool goes down.

‘For me, I could take a woman or a child’s heart. That’s why I think it happened so fast.

‘I recovered really quickly with that one, and I was back to work within three months,’ she said.

But she was not quite so lucky that time and at the end of 2021 she was penciled in for a remarkable third transplant after coronary artery disease set in once more.

‘This one did take me a little bit by surprise because my first heart lasted for a little over 20 years,’ she said.

‘But they did warn me that that was a good possibility because with each transplant you are at higher risk for rejection and other issues.’

This time the surgeons in Colorado did not want to take the risk of another operation and Jenn had to go through a battery of tests before she was accepted by the world-leading Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in California.

Surgeons had to cut through a forest of scar tissue to carry out the operation in July last year while giving her a new kidney to boot.

Years of heavy medication had taken their toll on her other organs and her kidneys were badly damaged.

‘But by the time I had that transplant, my kidneys were getting worse, and so they decided that when they did the heart they were just going to do the kidneys because I was going to need it done soon anyway,’ she said.

But this time she has decided to return to fitness at her own pace and plans to finish a year out before returning to work.

‘In the past, I hadn’t changed my diet a whole lot, but this time I didn’t have any problems changing it and eating better,’ she said.

‘I just feel pretty good right now. There’s a lot more energy.

‘When I got my first transplant, they told me I’d have maybe 15 extra years, and obviously I exceeded that.

‘Technologies and medications and research are making it so people can live longer. It’s absolutely amazing and very interesting what they can do now. They just keep getting better all the time.’

But the thought of the people who donated their organs to save her life are never very far from her mind.

'I had a great job and I had great friends and great family, and so I wasn't ready to die'

‘I had a great job and I had great friends and great family, and so I wasn’t ready to die’

'The most important thing I've learned is how much God has been watching over me'

‘The most important thing I’ve learned is how much God has been watching over me’

‘It’s so great when people put that on their card or let their family know,’ she said, ‘They can save so many lives that way.’

And she has no regrets about how her life has turned out.

‘I think God is using me to send a message,’ she said.

‘I want to be an inspiration to others, give them hope, make them believe they should never give up under any odds — and most of all trust in the Lord. I believe that is my purpose.’

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