No holiday miracle for Vulhop yet

Published 12:00 am Thursday, November 27, 2003

The Ironton Tribune

COLUMBUS - While many people dine with their families on Thanksgiving, one Ironton woman will have hers in a Columbus hospital room.

Michelle "Shelley" Damron Vulhop's waiting game continues at the Ohio State University Medical Center in Columbus. The 32-year-old Ironton woman who was born with a ventricular septum with an inverted heart valve is waiting for a double-lung and heart transplant.

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"I just want everyone to know that I'm still here," she said.

Over the years, her heart became weaker with congestive heart failure, and Vulhop was diagnosed with pulmonary hypertension six years ago. The need for the double-lung transplant exists because the pressure on her heart has weakened her lungs.

She was not expected to reach her late 20s, but has nonetheless survived. She entered the hospital in June and will remain there until the transplant is performed.

This transplant for which she is waiting will probably be the first heart and double-lung transplant performed at the OSU Medical Center.

Recently, Vulhop had what she called a "downfall". An ovarian cyst rupture caused her to lose four units of blood. In any other case, physicians would be able to perform emergency surgery, but hers were certain she could not survive it. Despite blood flooding her heart, she managed to survive.

"They just thought I was going to die," she said. "But I'm not going to give up. I've come too far to give up for some ovarian cyst."

While she was previously able to walk, Vulhop has not been able to do so now. She must also wear her oxygen at all times, she said. However, while her oxygen levels have been below normal for her entire life, they recently reached a normal level. She credits this with the prayers of friends, family and others she has met through her quest for a transplant.

Her mother Rachel and fiance Larry Kinsler live in apartments for transplant patients' families, and the two have taken unpaid leaves from their jobs to stay with Vulhop in Columbus. Transplant patients, she said, also stay in those apartments for a while after their release as a precaution. Kinsler, she said, will cook Thanksgiving dinner for everyone and bring it to her room. A boy named Hosea recently arrived in the hospital, also needing a heart. She is hoping he is well enough to have dinner in her room as well. If not, someone in her family will bring him something.

An old friend recently came to visit, further brightening Vulhop's spirits. A friend she made in the hospital received a transplant and asked that his room be given to her upon his departure.

"He looked wonderful," she said. "He said, 'I think about you every day Shelley'. I said, 'I think about you all the time."

Other visitors include her aunt who sneaked her two Yorkie puppies, Smoochie and Cuddles, into the hospital in a duffel bag. The nurses, she said, are wonderful people who constantly buy presents for her. One present included two "wish bears". Judy Mulkey, Kinsler's sister, has been a huge help to both her and her fiance, staying with Vulhop even when she was at her sickest.

The Laid Back bar recently raised $670 with a bike run. Organizers of the bike run regretted they were not able to raise more money, Vulhop said, because of cold weather. However, she said she and her family are thankful for anything they receive. Kinsler's employer, the Liebert Corporation, have regularly sent collected money and care packages.

"The people he works with are so kind," she said. "Larry is a good person, and they know he would do the same for them."

Even if she were to receive her transplant by the end of the week, she would still be in the hospital through Christmas, Vulhop said. Nonetheless, she and her family are already planning to put up a Christmas tree in her room to celebrate.

Vulhop is still hoping to hear from anyone in her hometown. Her address is Ohio State University Medical Center, Rhodes Hall, Room 852, 410 West 10th Avenue, Columbus, Ohio 43210-1228.