Callie Blackmore, sits comfortably next to her mother, Liz, with a senior-aged miniature schnauzer named Jack dozing on her lap. She looks like a healthy, happy 26-year-old.
You’d never know from looking at her that her mere existence is a miracle.
The Agassiz woman started life with heart issues. Before the age of six she had received one closed and two open heart surgeries – the first one when she was only three days old.
While her early years were rocky, the rest of Blackmore’s youth was smooth sailing. She was a normal teenager, described as outgoing, quick-minded, kind and loyal by friend Jessica Scott on a GoFundMe page set up for Blackmore’s family.
It wasn’t until Blackmore was in her late teens that her heart problems resurfaced.
It started smaller, with heart palpitations and fluid retention. But as the years went on it progressed and eventually she couldn’t stay out for more than a few hours.
Blackmore was too exhausted to do simple things like get groceries or go to work.
By the time she was 23, she was incapable of even walking one block without help.
Her heart was failing.
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This beautiful body of mine has been through so much. It’s been gentle & kind, but It’s also fought like hell for me. It’s resilient and has never given up. Despite all the abuse it’s taken on, it continues to power through and move forward. I’m almost at the two year ‘anniversary’ of coming to terms with my mortality and beginning my uphill battle with heart failure. Even after my entire body began to shut down, it did so to preserve itself, to keep me warm & safe. After several rounds of painful iron infusions, it absorbed and healed my other organs from potential failure. After weeks of 24/7 life saving IV drips and surgery to strengthen my heart, it bounced back after only a few weeks. And continues to bounce back. After nearly 7 months of physical/mental training, a healthier relationship with food & calories, healing myself emotionally and spiritually, and being blessed with the most supportive group of people in the world, I’ve finally been able to give back to this beautiful body… who has continuously healed me.
Finding a heart donor is difficult in any situation, but the multiple surgeries Blackmore’s heart endured when she was a child made it even tougher to find a match. The surgeries and blood transfusions had created a buildup of antibodies in her system that further narrowed the pool of hearts available to replace hers.
Her doctors made a recommendation: Move to Toronto where there’s more doctors, more people, and most importantly, more hearts.
Blackmore and her mother, Liz had no choice. It was life or death.
But the expenses of moving would pile up. Travel, accommodation and living costs, on top of leaving work, had the mother-daughter duo looking at a mountain of debt.
So Agassiz and Harrison stepped up.
In May, 2017, Callie’s Perfect Heart fundraiser brought in nearly $10,000. The community came out in droves for a dinner served by local RCMP in Red Serge, and Blackmore left with much-needed support, along with the money to take her to Toronto, where she hoped a new heart awaited her.
A GoFundMe page also raised more than $11,000 for the pair.
Now, Liz looks back and says that without help from the community, the experience could have been far more harrowing.
“It meant everything and it really did make it possible. I’m sure without it, we would have still done it but we might not have a home to come back to,” she said. “I hope they know how much it’s appreciated and it meant to us.”
When they got to Toronto, Blackmore and her mother had two weeks to settle in before meeting her new doctors.
When they went in for the first appointment, the doctors, stunned by her condition, admitted Blackmore to the hospital immediately. Her condition had deteriorated rapidly.
She needed a heart soon.
And finding a new heart wasn’t the only challenge Blackmore and her doctors faced. Even if they found the perfect heart, recovering from the transplant would be long, strenuous and painful.
And it might not even work, or at least, not for the 26-year-old’s entire life time.
As reported in the Globe and Mail, a study released in 2011 by the Canadian Cardiovascular Congress found that heart-transplant survival rates were 86 per cent after one year, 75 per cent at five years, 62 per cent at 10 years and only 36 per cent at 20 years.
Blackmore knew her odds weren’t great, especially because of her previous heart complications.
“I knew people who had gone through transplants and didn’t wake up,” Blackmore recalled. “Or, they were not really living. They were hooked up to machines and really sick. I saw that and thought, I don’t want that to be my life.”
Blackmore told her doctors she didn’t just want to be alive; she wanted to live.
But doctors weren’t very positive.
Then one day, something incredible happened.
During an angiogram, a specialist noticed a slight narrowing in a small, almost invisible vessel hidden in Blackmore’s heart. He decided to put a stent in the vessel to open it up, hoping it would make her more comfortable while she waited for a heart.
But within weeks, she had become a new person.
“Her hair started to grow again, her nails started to grow again, she started to feel better,” recalled Liz. “By September she said, ‘I don’t want a new heart.’”
Liz speculates that the narrowed vessel had been causing the symptoms of heart failure.
Fixing it meant Blackmore could keep her heart, and her life.
The pair came back to Agassiz in February, and during a check up in June, Blackmore was officially taken off the transplant list.
Liz said doctors told her that her daughter was one of the only people that had been taken off that list without undergoing transplant surgery or dying.
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First pic is me last summer, hospital bound, and a few days before my stent surgery. The smile on my face says otherwise, but I was weak and fragile, looked and felt awful. I had a big ugly tube stuck in my arm and was in a ton of pain and discomfort, and under an enormous amount of emotional stress. Still unsure of what my future, if there was one, would look like. I had zero confidence, and 1001 things I was self conscious of. The bags under my eyes, the constant bloating i carried around, the lack of colour or light in my eyes and face, barely being able to walk from my room to the other end of the hospital ward without needing to stop 5+ times to catch my breathe, and more. Now, over a year later, I’m leaps and bounds where I ever thought I would be. And have accomplished so much more than I thought I ever could. My goal weight was something I was super focused on at the very beginning of this ‘fitness journey’ (I hate even calling it that cause it sounds so pretentious.) Little did I know all the highs and lows, emotionally and mentally, I would struggle with, and continue to struggle with. Body image issues, obsessively counting every calorie, and pushing myself at the gym to the point of getting sick and feeling burnt out all summer. But I persisted, and kept going. Three times a week. Getting my ass kicked by my PT, who’s become one of my closest and most supportive friends. I learned how to check my emotions and anxiety. I learned how to breath, in a more conscious and controlled way. I learned how to have a healthy relationship and balance with food. And I learned that I can do all this by myself, and that I have been doing this all by myself. I’ve hit plateaus and reached my absolute max limit, but always came out on the other side stronger. I’ve acquired a few personal bests that I’m striving to beat again. I have endurance and strength I truly never thought I would ever obtain. But I’m always extremely grateful and humbled by where i started and where I am now. Consistency is the key!
|Callie Blackmore posted this photo to Instagram in November with the caption: it’s been a hard year, and I only know, from down this low it’s only up we go….|
Now Blackmore has her life back. She’s regained her independence, focusing on her career, her travel goals and her health. She hired a personal trainer and goes to the gym frequently, suddenly able to exercise and focus on fitness in a way she couldn’t for years.
Heading toward her 27th birthday this spring, Blackmore suddenly has a renewed shot at life.
“I never had a future planned out for me because I never saw myself having a future,” she said. “Now it’s like, well I’m going to do this and save up for that and going to go see this place… those are things I never, ever thought about.”
“I feel like I have more perspective and more appreciation. I feel more focused now. These are the things I want to do [and] this is how I’m going to get there.”
Liz said it was truly a miracle for the family.
“I’ll never ask for another thing in my life. This is beyond what we could have hoped for.”