One mother sent an emotion-filled letter to her donor organ donor just days before Christmas 2020. This was to allow her to share her first celebrations with her newborn baby.

Nicolette Somers (30), a Detroit resident, was diagnosed in October 2020 with peripartum cardiacmyopathy (PPCM). This rare type of congestive heart disease associated with pregnancy was three months after Beckett’s birth.

Although doctors had initially hoped to be able treat Nicolette, they eventually said she would require a transplant. Otherwise she could risk losing her baby boy.

The wait to receive a new heart can take as long as 11 months. However, she received a phone call 9 days later to inform her that a donor heart was available for her. Underwent the lifesaving transplant December 20, 2020. Then, spent three weeks in rehabilitation.

While she was in hospital, her one-year-old son missed Christmas. However, her mother says video clips of him opening gifts and wearing festive clothes gave her strength to make it through.

This year, she’s planning to spend her first proper Christmas as a family with her husband Mark, 31, an electrician, and little Beckett – and has also penned an open letter to her heart donor. Nicolette doesn’t know the background of her donor, but she hopes to one day meet them to express gratitude. 

Nicolette Somers (pictured in hospital), 30, from Detroit, Michigan, was diagnosed with peripartum cardiomyopathy (PPCM) - a rare form of congestive heart failure associated with pregnancy - in October 2020, three months after her son Beckett, now one, was born

Nicolette Somers (30, Detroit, Michigan) was found to have peripartum cardiomyopathy. This is a rare form congestive cardiac failure that occurs during pregnancy. She was first diagnosed in October 2020.

Although doctors initially hoped they'd be able to treat Nicolette (pictured with her family) for the condition, she was eventually told she would need a heart transplant - or she would risk missing her newborn son grow up

Although doctors had initially hoped to be able treat Nicolette (pictured here with her family), they eventually said she would require a transplant. Otherwise, her baby would not live.

The letter said: “Because your selfless act in becoming an organ donation, you have given the greatest gift anybody can give.”

“You gave me life. Thanks to you, I am able be in my son’s life. And I will never forget the total stranger who gave her a new life and saved her from death. Everyday I think of you and hope that I am making you proud.

Nicolette writes an open letter to her donor 

“To my donor, whatever you might be, I wanted to express how grateful I am for you and all your family. 

You gave me the greatest gift I could receive because of your unselfish act as an organ donor. I was given the gift of living. You gave me the gift of life. I am able to play a part in my son’s life. I will tell my son about the stranger who saved his mother’s life. Everyday I think of you and hope that I am making you proud. 

Now, with this second chance I am trying to raise awareness about organ donation and PPCM. My new goals with this heart are to provide a happy life for my son and be an advocate for other people. To share my experience and help save lives, I hope to do so as often as possible. I am grateful for your beautiful gift. 

Nicolette is a mother-to-be who works full-time. It would have been impossible for me to see my son mature without it. My donor family and I will always be grateful.

“It is so difficult to know that in order for me to have a life I want, somebody else had to die. But, I’m trying my hardest to take advantage of this amazing opportunity.  It was like a Christmas miracle.

After a relatively easy pregnancy, Nicolette gave way to Beckett on July 20, 2020.

Nicolette began to feel very breathless after the first month.

She said that it took all of my energy to get up off the sofa – she was exhausted. “I felt as though my body was abandoning me,” she said.

To find out the cause of her symptoms, she visited the doctor on October 2020.

She was later diagnosed with heart disease five days later. Further tests showed that the condition was peripartum cardiacmyopathy (PPCM).

Doctors have explained that PPCM is heart failure caused by pregnancy – though the cause of the condition remains largely unknown.

Nicolette stated that ‘I recall the doctor telling me that my last resort would be to have a transplant of my heart, but that they did not see that happening.

“But my heart wasn’t strong enough to save me with medicine, so I was referred for transplantation – nine days later I got the call.”

They had estimated that a wait time for a new heart would take 11 months. Nicolette was completely taken by surprise when she called.

Nicolette observed, “I did not tell anybody at that point, not even my spouse, but deep down, I knew I didn’t had 11 months – I didn’t believe I’d make it to Christmas.”

“So, I was scared when I got that call. But I knew it was going to happen. That was the moment I realized that my heart was intended for me.

Because the organ is only temporary, she had to be at Henry Ford Hospital in Detroit as soon as possible on December 19, 2020. She was then sent to surgery early December 20.

She was told the wait for a new heart could take up to 11 months - but received a call nine days later to say there was a donor heart ready for her and underwent the life-saving transplant on December 20 2020, before spending the next three weeks in recovery. Pictured, Nicolette and baby Beckett

After being told that the wait to receive a new heart might take over 11 months, she received a phone call 9 days later to inform her there was one available. She underwent the vital transplant on December 20, 2020 and spent the following three weeks recovering. Pictured, Nicolette and baby Beckett

The surgery was successful and went according to plan, much to the relief of the entire family.

Nicolette couldn’t have any visitors because of coronavirus. Mark, however, was able visit her briefly after she woke from the surgery.

Beckett was able to celebrate his first Christmas while she was still in hospital.

Nicolette said, “I was so disappointed I couldn’t be there. I love Christmas.” “Mark sent me videos of Beckett opening presents, which were very adorable and made me happy.

“There were many firsts that I didn’t get to experience – but, I needed to remember that improving my parenting skills was the most important thing for me as a mother. It was hard work.

The entire family enjoyed Christmas when Nicolette, a hospital dischargee in January, was released from the hospital. This moment she described as ‘incredibly overwhelming.

Due to coronavirus, Nicolette (pictured in hospital) wasn't allowed any visitors - although husband Mark was able to make a brief visit for when she woke following surgery

Nicolette was not allowed to have visitors due to the coronavirus. However, Mark was able visit her briefly after she woke from surgery.

She stated that she had been given a fresh chance and wanted to make the most of every moment. “But it was so confusing – although I had the chance to make it work, it caused other families pain because someone they loved lost their beloved one.

“It was hard to be congratulated on the new heart because it wasn’t my favorite thing – it was difficult.”

She worried her little boy would not recognize her because they had been separated so much. But when she finally held him, he smiled and Nicolette was certain that everything was going well.

Beckett, Mark and Nicolette’s first and sole child, will be Beckett. Birth defects can occur from the combination of anti-rejection medication and transplant.

She stated, “I’m grateful I’m alive and that my life is full of memories and joy with my son. But I still struggle with this a little.”

Over the course of 2021, Nicolette has had countless biopsies and tests to examine her new heart for rejection but has had extremely positive results. Pictured, Beckett

Nicolette had numerous biopsies, tests and other procedures to check her heart. However, the results were very positive. Pictured, Beckett

Nicolette had numerous biopsies to check her heart and has received very positive results.

Nicolette felt that her body was finally feeling normal by April 2021 after suffering from chest pains, muscle tightness, fatigue and other symptoms.

Nicolette shared that she feels great after a year. She said, “I don’t think anyone would be able to tell me I had a cardiac transplant without looking at my scar,”

Nicolette can’t help thinking that the year of her transplant is also the one-year anniversary the loss of her donor.

She has no information about the donor of her heart, other than that she passed away just hours before it was donated to her. They will still be within four hours driving distance from her Detroit home.

Nicolette wrote a note to the family through a mediator to thank them all for their incredible sacrifice.

She hopes they’ll respond to her when they are comfortable. 

WHAT IS PERIPARTUM CREDITIOMYOPATHY? 

Peripartum cardiomyopathy, also known as PPCM (peripartum cardiomyopathy), is a rare form of heart disease that can occur in the final months of pregnancy and up to five years after birth.

The symptoms can look very much like third-semester issues, which makes diagnosis challenging.

PPCM causes the heart chambers to become smaller and less strong. The heart is unable to pump blood to the vital organs because there’s less blood flow to the left ventricle.

Signs and symptoms

  • Fatigue
  • Palpitations are feelings of racing heartbeats or skipp beats.
  • Nighttime urination is increasing
  • When you are active or lying down flat, shortness of breath is common
  • The swelling of the ankles
  • Swollen neck veins

Risk factors:

  • Obesity
  • Histories of heart disorders such as myocarditis (inflammation in the heart muscle).
  • Some medications can be taken
  • Smoking
  • Alcoholism
  • Multiple pregnancies
  • Inadequate nutrition

The goal of PPCM is to prevent extra fluid from building up in the lungs, and to aid the heart to recover as completely as possible.

The treatment options available

  • A physician may prescribe several types of medication to relieve symptoms. There are also variations for breastfeeding mothers that can be safer.
  • A doctor may suggest a diet low in salt, fluid restriction, and daily weighing. An indication of fluid buildup is a weight gain exceeding three to four pounds within a few days.

To maintain a healthy heart, doctors recommend women quit smoking and drink alcohol. They should also eat well and exercise regularly.

Women with PPCM have a high chance of having the same problem in future pregnancies.

American Heart Association