An Unlikely Encounter
Even before they met, Wright was aware of MacDougall. Jolene Scharikow, a nurse at the cardiac unit of St. Boniface Hospital in Winnipeg, had become friends with Wright, who returned regularly to the hospital for follow-up care and to volunteer. Scharikow told her that the two patients should meet: “You’re the same age, and he’s in the same situation you were in. Go talk to him.”
In the end, their first encounter, in May 2013, was arranged as part of a mentorship program that pairs an experienced cardiac patient with a newcomer. MacDougall had been admitted to the hospital to wait for a left ventricular assist device (LVAD), a pump implanted to help a weak heart circulate blood until a transplant is possible. As a former LVAD user, Wright was asked to describe the experience of carrying the piece of medical equipment everywhere.
When Wright first walked into MacDougall’s room, she did a double take at the handsome guy sitting on the bed, playing a Fender Stratocaster guitar and filling the cardiac unit with the sounds of Metallica.
Wow, MacDougall said to himself as he caught sight of the wavy-haired Wright. Then he pushed away the thought—he was married.
The pair ended up talking for hours. They discovered that they each had a nine-year-old daughter and that the girls, named Kaylin and Kaylyn, were born within two weeks of each other. They made jokes about how numerous patients walked down the hallway with their backsides hanging out of hospital gowns, and started a competition for bragging rights over which of them had faced the worst medical procedures.
Wright had been hospitalized for five months with ventricular tachycardia in 2010, while she was pregnant with her second child. When she was readmitted two years later in cardiogenic shock (when multiple organs begin to fail because the heart isn’t pumping enough blood), her lips were blue, her face was grey, and her body was bloated in some places and rail-thin in others due to an inability to keep down food.
On July 1, 2012, Wright got the call: a new heart was waiting for her in Edmonton, one of a handful of cities in Canada where the transplants are done. Before heading to the airport, she grabbed her go-bag, jamming in a few last-minute items, including an orange sundress. “With an LVAD, you can’t wear a dress because of the wire coming out of your side,” she says now. “I was determined to wear one home.”