Not slowing down
Although she continues to struggle with health issues, Erin Brophy works endless hours, while volunteering when her schedule allows the time.
Brophy, a Cape Coral resident, said her maternal grandfather passed away when her mom was 4 years old. Four years later her grandmother passed away. Both deaths were heart related.
“At that point, they just figured they were heart attacks, that there was nothing major to it,” Brophy said.
Once Brophy’s mother reached her 30s, she began experiencing heart related issues. She was eventually put on a defibrillator and two years later placed on the heart transplant list.
The family history continued with her aunt, her mother’s sister. Brophy said her aunt had a heart transplant that her body rejected and she became too weak and was placed on life support while waiting for a second transplant.
“They decided that a second transplant would be too much and she probably wouldn’t survive it,” she said of her aunt passing away in 1990. “With my grandmother and grandfather and then my aunt passing away, we started to kind of notice that something was not right.”
Doctors from Harvard Medical Center in Boston contacted Brophy’s family because they wanted to do a genetic workup and study their family’s medical history. The tests were conducted on Brophy, her brother, sister, mother and cousins.
“They found out that it is a 2/3 family genetic,” she explained of genetic cardiomyography. “It mainly affects females, but it does also hit some males.”
Once the heart issues were discovered, Brophy found out that she had the gene, and although her brother had it, he was fine. Her sister did not have the gene.
“So, once one of us does not have it, it will not carry through to our children, which is good because my sister’s kids don’t have to worry about it,” she said.
Over the course of the next few years, Brophy felt fine, but kept an eye on her health. That quickly changed seven years ago when she went to donate blood, something she had done many times before. The nurse told her that her heart was skipping beats and she should return the following week.
“So, I went back and the same thing . . . you are skipping beats,” Brophy said, adding that the nurse told her something was not right. “You should probably call your doctor and follow up.”
While meeting with her primary physician, she was hooked up to an EKG. After two tests were run, Brophy was instructed to find a cardiologist.
She traveled to Tampa General Hospital and met with a transplant doctor and had more tests done.
“My ejection fraction was about 35 percent,” Brophy said. “You don’t normally go on a transplant list until you drop to 30. But, with my heart skipping beats and doing some weird things (and I was) getting dizzy and light-headed, I was put on a bunch of medication and put on a defibrillator.”
procedure The defibrillator was done about six years ago leaving Brophy feeling fine for two years. She continued with her daily life, waitressing at Miceli’s in Matlacha during season and celebrating New Year’s Eve with friends. The following day she did not feel good, which left her sleeping New Year’s Day away.
“Later that night I woke up and I had palpations, my heart was beating really fast. I was really sweaty and I started to get pain in my chest. So, I called my cousin and she took me to the ER,” Brophy said. “When we got there, they had run a bunch of tests and my heart function was down to 12 percent. I was working at Miceli’s for the past couple of months during season, outside, and had no problems and no symptoms at all.”
The doctors ended up putting a pick line in and giving Brophy additional medication before sending her home. Again, she carried on with her life and went back to work at Miceli’s, this time with some limitations of what she could do. A couple weeks later while Brophy was at the DMV she almost passed out. Further tests showed that the medications were not strong enough, resulting in increased dosages before she was sent home once again.
Brophy was transferred to Tampa General Hospital where she was told that it was the last time they would adjust her medications.
“It was getting so bad that they weren’t comfortable with me being at home and being two hours away from them,” she said. “At that point I was able to be listed because my heart function was down lower and I had a pick line.”
Brophy did not make the transplant list until 45 days later, all due to the medical coverage she had. She had to pick up Medicaid because she was told she would not be approved for a transplant until the costs were completely covered.
The phone call came while she was riding the elevator at Tampa General Hospital to go to a doctor’s appointment. The surgery took six hours, followed by 48-hours in an ICU unit where only her doctors and nurses could enter the room. She was then transferred to the transplant floor.
Brophy now takes anti-rejection medication, and anti-bacterial medication every day.
Since her transplant, Brophy’s heart has been rejected five times, leaving her body being pumped with thousands of milligrams of steroids to knock down the immune system, so it can no longer be rejected. The last rejection occurred in February. Unfortunately she experiences no symptoms.
“According to my doctors, young active females have the healthiest bodies. That is normally who they have the hardest times with rejections because our immune systems are the healthiest,” she said.
Although the dosages of steroids can be difficult to manage, Brophy began working again. She found “the perfect spot” at Spa 33 in Matlacha where she has the opportunity to do what she is licensed to do – massage therapist, skin care and nail care. She obtained her licenses a few years ago and has been practicing at Gulf Coast Massage and Skin Care for the past five years.
“I like massage because you can really feel things and fix them. You can feel the differences in the tissue. You can feel knots. I like that because you can actually feel the results,” she said.
Individuals can book an appointment with Brophy at Spa 33 Tuesday through Friday, and occasionally on Saturday.
Brophy also finds time to donate her skills to Wounded Warrior Anglers, with the most recent being the Warrior & Caregiver Retreat last month at Spa 33 where she provided facials for the caregivers.
“It’s very rewarding when people don’t normally treat themselves because they are too busy, some don’t find it necessary,” she said. “It’s very rewarding and nice to be able to pamper them for once. Switch the roles and let someone take care of them.”