The first thing I noticed when I sat down with Amanda was her friendly and easy going personality. I recognized the tiredness that comes along with fighting for your life etched into her features – it was the same look I had worn for so many years – and yet she was eager to engage and converse with me. Her goal, she said, was to help people.
We’re living in the middle of a pandemic and this, Amanda reminded me, will only add to the number of people receiving organ transplants. She has a wonderful support system but not everyone has received the same support she has, and Amanda said if she can be part of the village to someone else that she has created for herself, it would make her entire experience worth it.
Amanda received her first heart transplant at 15. While other kids her age were worrying about prom and which boy liked them, Amanda had bigger things at hand. Taking multiple immunosuppressants a day, avoiding germs, staying compliant with her treatments, it all made Amanda fit in less with her peers and more with the adults in her life. Transplant causes one to mature, quickly, and this is something Amanda experienced firsthand.
When talking about her experience with transplant, she was quick to reveal that one of her biggest struggles throughout the entire process was that of dealing with her mental health. The entire body is analyzed prior to and post transplant and yet mental health is an area often overlooked.
“I knew I needed a therapist, so that’s when I got one,” Amanda states, and it’s a sentiment I fully agree with. Transplantation is a process that takes a toll not only on the physical body but also the mental one, but there is little to no support for this invisible battle. And Amanda says she feels there should be greater emphasis put on the mental health journey following transplant.
She is currently back on the list, this time for a new heart and kidneys, despite doing everything right. She was compliant with her treatment, took all the medications prescribed to her, and yet the blow of knowing this failure of her organs took place as a result of the medication prescribed to save her life, she says, is her current stand out moment of the entire process.
Despite current struggles, Amanda looks back on her transplant as the biggest gift. Her overall experience has been incredibly positive, and her heart provided her with the opportunity to graduate high school, attend college and study abroad for a semester. She is an amazing chef who has worked with transplant patients regarding their diet and in hospitals hoping to make a change in the hospital menu we all love to hate. She works with her local organ procurement center, is the spokeswoman for the national heart association and records an amazing podcast called ‘Unfiltered survivors”.
I asked Amanda what inspires her to keep going and she said, “Why not?” It’s as simple a sentiment as they come, and yet those two words leave a profound impact. Amanda’s desire to help others penetrates through all that she does, and she says it is the driving force behind her fight.
“It’s all worth it,” Amanda told me, even in the midst of her current struggles. The pain, the struggle, the agonizing waiting period and the unexpected weight it imprints on both the mind and body, it’s worth it. Life itself is the most beautiful gift, a reminder I, too, find myself in need of often. It can be so easy to get swallowed up in your own journey, and I admire Amanda’s ability to keep sight of the bigger picture.
As our meeting together winded down, I asked Amanda if there was anything else she wanted to say while she had the floor. She said she credits TransplantLyfe to a lot of her success, and if this was available to her years ago she might be in a very different place now. “Put it all out there,” She said, “And use all the resources available to you. We have created this village that is so full of love and support, don’t hesitate to lean into it.”
You can connect with Amanda on TransplantLyfe: https://transplantlyfe.com/profile/ChefAmanda
Find her on social media: https://www.instagram.com/chefwithaheart/
Or listen to her podcast: https://unfilteredsurvivors.com/episodes/