“Her name is Sojourner Truth Bush. I say ‘is’ because I keep her with me in my mind all the time, and I thank her every day because I am, in a way, carrying on her legacy.”
That’s how Allison Trimble, 34, remembers the forever 22-year-old Washington State University student who, in the hours after a tragic car accident in 2000, gave her a new heart and what she calls “the gift of a second life.”
Sojourner wasn’t the only person who helped Allison that day–Bloodworks Northwest donors also gave her the 19 units of blood she needed during her transplant surgery to give her the best chance of survival.
During her sophomore year of high school, the symptoms of what Allison would later learn was a genetic heart disease were at first all too easy to compensate for and explain away. When she would gasp for air trying to sleep on her back, Allison would roll over to her side. When she had almost-daily bouts of severe nausea in class, the school nurse asked her if she was anorexic and felt safe at home. And even when she was so tired she could barely stay awake in class, alarm bells still didn’t sound. “I learned later this was my body shutting down,” she remembered. “My organs were all shutting down one by one.”
After months of declining performance in gym class, people around Allison started noticing something wasn’t right. “We were treading water one day and, quite frankly, I think I almost didn’t make it,” Allison said. “I almost couldn’t get over to the side of the pool. And I was breathing so hard I couldn’t really get out on my own.” Allison’s teacher had her sit out of the pool the rest of the day. “You need to go in and get tested for asthma,” she told her.
That asthma test probably saved Allison’s life.
A physician at the local clinic prescribed Allison an inhaler while waiting for the routine CT scan results to come back. Several days later, the scan revealed that Allison’s heart was slightly enlarged and that weekend, her symptoms worsened dramatically. “I really couldn’t move from the couch, and just being awake was difficult. I was getting really dizzy, and anytime I sat up or stood up my blood pressure would just drop.”
After barely making it into the clinic for a cardiac ultrasound that following Tuesday, Allison was admitted to the ICU at Seattle Children’s Hospital. The physicians there ordered an ejection fraction test, which measures how much blood the left ventricle of the heart pumps out with each beat. A result below 40 percent is considered heart failure. Allison’s was 8 percent. “They said to me, ‘We’re shocked you’re actually conscious right now,’” she remembered.
Allison was diagnosed with a genetic heart disease called familial cardiomyopathy. After 18 days in the ICU, she was added to the heart transplant list and allowed to return home. “I had a pager at home and I was waiting for the possibility for the call to come that a heart had come in,” Allison said. “That’s when fear started to set into my heart, and into my mind. I had to find a way to be okay with it.”
When that call did come, with Sojourner’s gift and the life-sustaining help of 19 units of blood from Bloodworks donors, Allison survived her heart transplant operation and began her “second life.”
Four years would pass from Allison’s transplant date before Bloodworks Northwest would give her another gift.
Back then, she was working at a pizza shop and volunteering for Bloodworks in her free time. “I went to speak at one of their luncheons thanking a group of donors, and my coworker at the time was there with his father being recognized for donating blood several times that year. And that was the moment when I fell in love with him.”
Allison Hansen and Dave Trimble weren’t even particularly close at that time, but it didn’t take long for that to change. “The fact that he cared about something that was so close to my heart played a huge role in me deciding that he was for me,” Allison said with a giggle. “So in another personal aspect, Bloodworks has played a huge role in my life.”
The pair married a year later and in 2018 they’ll celebrate their 14th anniversary. According to Allison, her gratitude for the gifts she has been given – from Sojourner, from her blood donors, from her husband, and from her second life – defies explanation. “Their gift,” she says, “their time spent away from work or family to spend time with an uncomfortable needle in their arm has meant a life for me. It’s hard to explain to someone what that means to you other than to just to say thank you, you are amazing.”
Milestone update: On March 5th, 2020, Allison celebrated the 20-year anniversary of her heart transplant. We could not be happier for her.