For 50 days, Ed Mejlholm lay in his bed at St. Paul’s wondering if he would live or die. In his darkest moments during the spring of 2017, he doubted he would live long enough to get the heart transplant he so desperately needed.
But for the Nanaimo realtor, the path to transplant started almost 20 years earlier after a relatively minor car accident. He was sent to the hospital in Nanaimo and then transferred to Victoria: not because of injuries, but because his doctors discovered had a dangerously enlarged heart.
Medication alone controlled things at first. But as his heart deteriorated, Ed endured an escalating series of procedures including five ICDs over the span of 18 challenging years. (An ICD is device that shocks the heart when it detects an abnormal rhythm.)
One day, while showing houses to a client, he blacked out and fell to the ground. He was flown by air ambulance to St. Paul’s and placed on an ECMO life-support machine (similar to an artificial heart-lung machine, it circulates blood and oxygen in critically ill patients).
It took a week to stabilize him. After that, he had open heart surgery to implant an LVAD (a battery-operated pump that’s often used pre-transplant to prevent the patient from getting any weaker while waiting for a donor organ). Finally, after three long months of recovery, Ed was strong enough to be placed on the transplant list. That’s when the waiting – and the dread – began in earnest. “I wanted to live so bad: for my amazing wife Valerie, my kids, my parents (who are in their 90s), and my three young grandchildren….” He trails off, his voice choked with emotion.
At that point, he was barely able to walk or climb a few stairs. But that wasn’t the worst of it. For Ed, the lowest point came when he grew too weak to hold his grandchildren. “I couldn’t be a real grandpa,” he says.
Ed remembers the day his nurse, Erica Johansson (a heart failure specialist), came into his room saying she had good news and bad news. “She said, ‘The bad news is, I won’t be your nurse anymore. The good news is, we found you a heart!’”
That was April 19, 2017. Today, Ed feels like a brand new person. “I truly haven’t felt this good in more than 25 years. My wife is amazed. We were able to go on a holiday for the first time in years. And best of all, I can roll around and play with my grandchildren like a real grandpa!”
Now Ed wants to pay it forward. He is donating a portion of his earnings to sponsor a $20,000 star in the Lights of Hope so other patients can experience the same extraordinary care he did.
“I’m so grateful to my wife and to everyone at St. Paul’s,” he exclaims. “My surgeon Dr. Jamil Bashir saved my life three times in a single year. Cardiologist Dr. Toma’s confidence and reassuring manner held me and the whole team together. Dr. Laksman, a cardiac electrophysiologist, somehow kept my heart beating long enough to get my transplant. And Dr. Andy (Dr. Andy Ignaszewski is affectionately called Dr. Andy by almost everyone at St. Paul’s), well he came to see me almost every single day to reassure me that I would get a heart; they were just waiting to make sure I got the right one.” Ed pauses; he doesn’t want to leave anyone out. “It’s like with your kids, if you mention one, you have to mention them all,” he laughs.
There’s a poignant post script to Ed’s story. His star honours his late father-in-law, Fred Liden. In 1961, pioneering cardiologist Dr. Doris Kavanagh (St. Paul’s first female cardiologist) saved Fred’s life with one of the very first artificial heart valve transplants. “Val was only a year old when her dad got sick. Thanks to St. Paul’s, she got 21 years with him. And he lived long enough to hold our own newborn daughter just before he passed. We know he’s been watching out for me and for Val this whole time.”
At the Lights of Hope Community Celebration, Ed was joined by 14 family members, including his kids, grandkids, and mother-in-law, Lorraine – some from as far away as Cranbrook. To cap off a very special evening, Ed and Val surprised the entire family as their star was lit for the first time in memory of Fred, a truly beloved father, husband, and grandpa.
“Between me and my father-in-law, we’ve had five open heart surgeries at St. Paul’s and more than 25 years’ of exceptional care. We owe everything to St. Paul’s and the generous donors who make these life-changing treatments possible.”
Ed survived his lengthy ordeal thanks to the expertise of St. Paul’s amazing medical staff and the amazing supporters who contribute to the Lights of Hope. Indeed, complex procedures like heart transplants would not even be possible without your generosity. When you give to the Greatest Needs Fund, you gift helps wherever the need is most acute and you make it possible to fast-track the most-needed equipment across Providence Health Care’s hospitals, residences, and care sites.
Donate today at: lightsofhope.com