ORLANDO, Fla. – Nearly two years ago, Savannah Nissel got a second chance at life when she received a heart transplant. The college graduate is now paying it forward with a career in health care and hopes she can use her own experience to help others.
“I was born with something called hypertrophic cardiomyopathy,” Nissel said.
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She grew up asymptomatic, but she said she wasn’t living a full life.
“Things like playing sports, running around at recess. I would always get told, ‘Hey don’t run. You need to slow down, sit down, take a deep breath,’” she said.
But when she turned 19 years old, she was told by doctors her heart only had a few years left. At 22 years old, she went on the transplant list during the height of the pandemic.
She almost got a heart, but then she contracted COVID-19.
“I found out that I was COVID positive about 5 minutes after receiving a call saying that they had a match for me on a heart,” Nissel said.
After testing negative and spending a total of 77 days on the waitlist, Nissel finally got her new heart in September 2020. She underwent the transplant at AdventHealth Orlando.
She said that was the moment her life and future changed forever.
“And I remember talking to my doctor after, the surgeon who did my transplant, and I said, ‘Hey you did a really awesome job on the scar on my chest,’” Nissel said. “And he said, ‘Oh that wasn’t me, that was one of my PAs.’ And I realized pretty much in that moment that sounds really awesome, I think I might like to that for myself.”
A year after her surgery she enrolled at Keiser University. She is graduating on Friday with an associate’s degree in medical assisting. Her goal is to become a physician assistant.
“It’s an honor to be a part of it and to watch her growth and development. I’m excited for her future,” said Dr. Todd Harrison, the campus president of Keiser University Orlando.
Nissel received on-the-job training from the same transplant institute that saved her life. She said she is using her experience to help others who are going through the same journey.
“Show them that there is a path after this and that things will become OK again,” Nissel said.
She adds she will never forget the sacrifice that helped her get to where she is today.
“I still think of my donor every day, all day. I think about them especially on a day like today because this is such a huge milestone for me and it’s one that absolutely would never have been possible without their sacrifice,” she said.