Los Angeles

Surgeons Reunite With Their Longest-Living Heart Transplant Survivor

Children's Hospital Los Angeles celebrates the 25th Anniversary of its heart transplant program

Melanie Wickersheim took to the podium last week at Children's Hospital Los Angeles to talk about one of the most devastating but illuminating moments in her life decades ago.

Wickersheim was 10 years old when she was diagnosed in 1995 with cardiomyopathy that left her with an enlarged heart.

She was at the top of the national heart transplant list. Within a week, she was given new life.

"I was just clinging to life at the time," she said. "That little girl lived and I was just one of the first."

The 33-year-old speech pathologist joined 30 others last week at a reunion of heart transplant recipients and the doctors who saved them at the LA hospital.

"I was skin and bones, but my heart had doubled in size, so you could actually see it pounding erratically through my shirt," said Wickersheim. "I might not be alive if not for them."

As a teen in December 2001, Stephanie Johnson was diagnosed with viral cardiomyopathy. She spent time, including holidays, at Children's Hospital, her lungs filled with fluid and her wrists and ankles swollen.

She was put on a list and eight weeks later got a heart transplant.

Her time in the hospital inspired her to become a pediatric nurse.

"I knew that I wanted to have that impact on a child's life, a family's life," said Johnson who will begin working at the Loma Linda University Children's Hospital in the pediatric intermediate ICU in April.

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