How I Pivoted to a New Career After My Heart-lung Transplant

Changing career paths has brought columnist Anna Jeter both grief and joy

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by Anna Jeter |

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Four weeks before I entered my freshman year of college, I was being evaluated for a heart-lung transplant due to pulmonary hypertension (PH). Little did I know that I would spend the next four years managing these very separate journeys alongside each other.

During this time, I think I did a good job of compartmentalizing events in my mind — perhaps too good a job. On one train of thought, I was preparing for a career in nursing and pursuing my degree to secure this future. In a completely different realm, I was beginning my transplant journey.

Many logistics were considered and denied during these years. Performing as a nurse post-transplant wouldn’t have been impossible. In fact, I know several people who navigate this profession successfully despite having a vulnerable immune system. So for me to pursue a nursing degree was not altogether unrealistic in concurrence with my looming medical fate.

My ultimate plan was to work in a neonatal intensive care unit, or NICU, with infants whose immune systems would be as fragile as mine. This best-case scenario came a bit closer into view when I accepted a coveted job at a nearby NICU weeks before graduating — a job I could hopefully return to following a successful transplant.

The reality that I neglected to consider in all of this thinking was the chance of a less-than-perfect transplant, and how that would affect me.

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I’d managed to make it through nursing school and clinicals with PH. It was a challenge, but I never had to quit. Even in a body that was deprived of oxygen and relatively weak, I was able to keep up with the demands. I never imagined that my transplant would make me even sicker.

People say that transplant is trading one disease for another, and I believed this. But I hadn’t configured my future around a fate in which this new “disease” would be as significant as the one I was already living with.

Of course, after undergoing transplant complications and a long recovery both in and out of the hospital, I found myself in an unexpected reality. I was living with a tracheostomy, dependent on oxygen full time, and, in general, was as weak as I was when living with PH.

For a long time following my transplant, survival was the goal. But eventually, as months passed, I was left in the stillness of my own body. How would I spend my time? It was clear, for many reasons, that I would not be able to pursue the nursing career I’d invested in during college.

In the quiet, I turned to my longtime passion for art. In the year before my transplant, I’d started a sole proprietorship and began selling art prints to help fund my upcoming journey. In the months following my surgery when I was fully incapacitated, family and friends kept these efforts alive, restocking inventory and shipping orders on my behalf. As a result, this small business has survived alongside me for years. So it felt natural to begin feeding back into this entity that had been serving and sustaining me.

Much of my creative effort is adapted to my capabilities each day. I sit at an easel instead of standing, and my overall creative process is slow and careful. In addition, the business side of things, which involves photographing my work and the labor of shipping, is a challenge I’m only able to tackle on my best days. With that said, the effort of this work is incredibly rewarding.

While I juggle several jobs to pull in an income working from home, my art business is the work I’m most passionate about. This past year has allowed for a lot of time spent creating, and I’m looking forward to relaunching my website on Small Business Saturday with lots of new, original work in a way I’ve never done before.

My earlier work felt more tied to fundraising efforts than any actual artistic prowess. This is the first year I’ve come into my own in regards to the pieces I’m producing. I have hopes that this small business of mine will continue to grow with time, and I remain grateful for all of the ways I’ve been able to creatively shift from the career I’d planned for and lost.

I’m not a big believer in the idea that everything happens for a reason. And I do feel a great deal of loss over my identity as a nurse. But I also know that my artwork is something I may never have been brave enough to pursue otherwise. So perhaps in this specific case, it’s true that I’ve ended up exactly where I’m meant to be.

Note: Pulmonary Hypertension News is strictly a news and information website about the disease. It does not provide medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website. The opinions expressed in this column are not those of Pulmonary Hypertension News or its parent company, BioNews, and are intended to spark discussion about issues pertaining to pulmonary hypertension.

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