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52-year-old Bettendorf woman – who feels 74 years old – awaiting second heart transplant

Dawn Thurman was given a new heart when she was 21 years old. Now, that heart is failing and insurance issues are stopping her from receiving another new heart.

BETTENDORF, Iowa --52-year-old Dawn Thurman is waiting for a call from Medicare for another chance at life.

She needs a second heart transplant and one new kidney, which is a tedious procedure few doctors know how to do. Studies show only 2 percent of heart transplants are re-transplants.

Dawn had her first heart transplant on September 9th, 1988 after she gave birth to her son - that heart is now failing.

Although Dawn is 52 years old, her heart is one of a 74-year-old.

“There’s days I feel like I’m 80,” Dawns says.

On Monday, her mother organized a surprise party to celebrate her “Heart Birthday”, which she’s had the past 31 years.

“It’s gotten me through a lot,” comments Dawn.

“We were told 5 years, and for us to have 30 – I mean – there’s not a day that goes by that we are not thankful we had all this time with her,” says Shannon Keckler, Dawn’s sister.

Dawn’s current heart could stop at any time.  Earlier this summer, Dawn was experiencing shortness of breath and swollen legs.  She went to her doctor at the University of Iowa Hospitals where the nurse told her one of the valves in her heart wasn’t working.

“Our life, kind of just stopped right there in June,” says Judy Thurman, Dawn’s mother.

“I always thought I would keep this heart, I never thought I'd have to get another transplant,” Dawn says.

The procedure is one doctors at the University of Iowa cannot perform because they don’t have a doctor who specializes in re-transplants.

There is a re-transplant doctor at University of Wisconsin-Madison Hospitals, but now slow communication between Medicare and UW Madison is stopping Dawn from being put onto a donor wait list.  Once payment is received from insurance or Dawn herself, she can be approved for the wait list.

“We’ve been corresponding back and forth on the phone and come to find out the other day no one had even talked to Medicare yet,” says Judy. “Who’s doing their job and who’s dropping the ball?”

After waiting a month to hear what’s next for her life, she hopes her 74-year-old heart will keep beating a little bit longer.

Studies show the longevity of the new heart is related to the time between a first transplant and the re-transplant, so Dawn could see another 30 years ahead of her if she receives a second transplant.

Once Dawn is put on the U-W Madison wait list, doctors say it will take two months at most to find a match.

The family is hosting a fundraiser for Dawn called "A 2nd Chance Fundraiser".  It will be on October 13th from 1-5PM at the American Legion in Davenport.  The event will contain a silent auction, bake sale, dancing, and food to purchase.  All donations received will be put in a trust for her medical expenses.