ANN ARBOR, Mich. – Her heart stopped beating more than 25 times, but April Hogan is alive because of the heroic efforts to save her.
To say April Hogan of Ypsilanti is lucky to be alive just doesn’t really cover it.
It was July 9, 2021, when Hogan told her fiancé Andre Smith to call 911.
“She got this look on her face, and I knew that something was off,” said Smith.
Hogan was short of breath.
“I was really hot and dizzy, and I feel like something wasn’t right. It wasn’t anything hurting or painful. It was just I feel different,” said Hogan.
As the ambulance rushes away, Smith follows it in a panic.
“As they’re going through the lights, I’m right behind them, tailing them,” said Smith. “They actually had to pull over to stop, like ‘You can’t do that. We’ve had people get in accidents doing that.’”
At St. Joseph Mercy, doctors discover Hogan has a clot in her left main coronary artery.
“Usually this is a very fatal condition. People would just die on the spot. But somehow, she made it to the hospital,” said Dr. Ashraf Abou el Ela, a cardiothoracic surgeon at the University of Michigan Health Frankel Cardiovascular Center.
As doctors at St. Joe’s race to treat Hogan, her heart stopped beating.
Doctors shock her back to life. But it stopped again, and again. More than 25 times.
But each time, Hogan’s heart responds to the shock. We asked Abou el Ela how extraordinary this is.
“This is the maximum number of defibrillations, or cardiac arrests I’ve seen in my career,” said Abou el Ela.
Hogan is clinging to life, but during the night, doctors prepare her loved ones for the worst.
“He said, ‘You need to come get ready to say your goodbyes,’” remembered Smith.
Hogan is then airlifted to the University of Michigan Health. Her heart wasn’t pumping enough blood to her brain and vital organs.
“We have to act fast because the clock is ticking,” said Abou el Ela.
Abou el Ela and the team at UofM immediately place Hogan on a special form of life support called extracorporeal membrane oxygenation, or ECMO for short.
“If somebody’s heart and lung have to fail, this machine would keep them alive, supporting the rest of the organs, until the heart either recovers, or we have time to think about more advanced surgical therapies for heart failure,” explained Abou el Ela.
Blood also wasn’t flowing to April’s leg.
“We used every trick we had to save her body and her leg,” said Abou el ela.
“It wasn’t her time,” said Smith. “And I just really felt that. So I didn’t lose hope.”
Hogan would leave the hospital with a left ventricular assist device, or LVAD. It’s a surgically implanted pump that assists the heart.
Hogan needed a heart transplant, but there was a problem.
“I was doing a lot of drinking and smoking, and I couldn’t do any of those things,” said Hogan.
She also had not been taking the heart medications she had been prescribed. Smith said they simply didn’t understand how serious the situation was.
“Just because you feel that you’re too young to be taking a bunch of medication, no, listen to what your doctor tells you,” said Smith. “Heart failure does not discriminate. We learned that the hard way.”
Hogan and Smith made the necessary lifestyle changes, and in August of last year, a heart became available.
“When I got the call, when they told me, they was like, ‘April, we have a heart.’ I almost dropped the phone. I’m like, ‘What?’ I was really shocked,” said Hogan.
Hogan is grateful to everyone who fought to save her life.
“I just think they’re amazing, first and foremost. I’m glad they got that far. I’m glad they did that much and didn’t give up,” said Hogan.
Ultimately, it was a team effort that involved two hospitals, countless medical professionals, and a selfless gift from a perfect stranger.
“I think it’s very very very gratifying when you see somebody that was about to die, and they make it home. It makes up for all of the sleepless nights we have in the transplant business,” said Abou el Ela.
To the donor family:
“I just want to thank them with all of my heart,” said Smith. “Thank you, thank you, thank you.”
“I’m just so grateful and blessed that I was chosen to receive it,” said Hogan. “I became a donor myself because of this. I wanted to bless someone else if I could. It feels great. It feels amazing. And I would like to thank the family.”
To learn more about organ donation or to join the Michigan Organ Donor Registry, click here.