Authors: Chandler Baker
Copyright © 2015 by Story Foundation and Chandler Baker
Cover design by Tyler Nevins
Cover illustration © Evan Hughes
Designed by Tyler Nevins
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To my grandparents, for love and wisdom
“The death’s been made official. That’s it.”
“Are you sure?” my mother whispers. I keep my breath steady. I don’t want them to know I’m awake.
“Positive. Family went in to say their good-byes. I just got off the phone. They pulled the plug.”
“And, will she…?” My eyes pop open. The shadows of my hunched mother and Dr. Belkin stretch over the wall of my hospital room.
The cardiac monitor beeps softly, once, twice, three times. “That’s the plan.”
St. David’s Healthcare: Confidential Document
This information is subject to all federal and state laws regarding confidentiality and privacy and to the policies and procedures of St. David’s
Healthcare regarding patient information. Any unauthorized use, disclosure, or reproduction of this information is strictly prohibited.
CROSS, STELLA M.
Pre–Heart Transplant Note
Belkin, Robert H.
Belkin, Robert H.
Pre–Heart Transplant Note
Belkin, Robert H.
Reason for visit: Measurable deterioration of the myocardium; dilated & dyspnea with peripheral edema
Transplant diagnosis: Transplant match
Transplant type: Deceased donor heart transplant
Blood consent signed: Y
History of Present Illness
Acute cardiomyopathy potentially leading to heart failure; irregular heartbeat; risk of sudden cardiac death
I was fifteen when my heart betrayed me. Like with all truly masterful betrayals, I didn’t see it coming.
I had my eye trained on the outside world—bad grades, horny teenage boys, college admissions—and all the while the real danger was lodged square between my rib cage and spine. It
hatched its plan, welcomed the poison in like a Trojan horse that pumped the disease through every artery, atrium, and valve until it turned my whole body against me.
That was two years ago. Life really isn’t fair.
The hospital bed mattress squeaks beneath me as I try to wriggle my way upright, digging my heels into the paper sheets. Even that makes me tired. I feel my breath get short and wait, still,
until my pulse slows. A
rerun blares in the background. I’ve been on a two-day bender—the hospital only gets a handful of channels—and I’m holding out hope
that DeAnna wins this season, only I’m not sure I’ll be around long enough to find out. I suppose I can Google it, but even the thought of that feels self-defeating.
I’ve been joking with Mom that I’m contestant material now. My athletic five-foot-nine frame has shrunk to a frail 112 pounds, burning calories overtime to keep the rest of my body
functioning. Turns out not dying takes a lot of work.
I drum my fingers on the plastic side rail of my bed and Mom glances up from the magazine she’s been pretending to read. She’s been doing that a lot lately. I can tell by the way she
keeps glancing toward me or the cardiac monitor—anywhere but actually at the magazine. She’s put on makeup for the first time in days. Blush sweeps across her cheekbones and the bridge
of her straight nose. She must have snuck out her compact while I was sleeping. Wisps of her black hair still stick out at her temples, though, and she looks the most tired I’ve seen her in
Dad took Elsie downstairs fifteen minutes ago, since she’d been crying like it was
heart that was about to get ripped out. That kind of attention-hoarding behavior is what makes
Elsie the perfect replacement child. She fills up practically every nook and cranny of my parents’ attention.
I’m getting antsy when Dr. Belkin walks in, white tennis shoes squealing along the speckled tile floor. “How’s the patient?” he asks, making a beeline for the little
digitized screens that will tell him exactly how “the patient” is doing. I don’t say anything, since I don’t really know. For the two years since my diagnosis with
cardiomyopathy, computers have proven a much more reliable indicator of my overall health, seeing as I feel pretty much the same as always—kind of crappy, but not terrible.
“Her color’s good.” Mom folds the magazine without marking her page and sets it on the table next to her. She puts a lot of stock in my color. She adjusts the trendy Kate Spade
glasses perched on her nose and reaches mechanically for her big stack of research, the voluminous file she keeps on Yours Truly. Career criminals have case reports that are shorter than my medical
Dr. Belkin offers a thin smile. “Everything’s still on track,” he says kindly, which is nice of him to say and all—only one problem: which track? The one where Stella
Cross goes on to stay up late nights watching reality TV, attend college, and lose her virginity, or the one where she dies, like twenty-five percent of other transplant patients, but in utter
teenage obscurity, having never done a single thing with her life? Ever? “Are you ready, Stella?” he asks, apparently unable to read my mind. Dr. Belkin has bushy blond eyebrows and
reddish skin, the face of a man who would sunburn in Alaska.
My rotten heart hammers at the inside of my chest. “So…I’m going to be dead?” I ask, even though I know the answer. “As in, one hundred percent not
“Stella!” Mom shushes me like I’ve said something offensive instead of totally true. She’s always on me about asking too many questions.
“Yes, technically.” Dr. Belkin checks the tube that trails out of my left arm. I can’t say I like him much—not personally anyway—but we reached an understanding a
long time ago. We’re on the same team, he and I. It’s my job to maintain a pulse and his job to see that I do and, believe me, I’m all too happy to be another bump in his success
“What we’ll do is prepare the cavity in your chest. A spot for the new heart to sit.” Dr. Belkin draws a circle in the air and I picture a bunch of people in white face masks
hovering over me at an operating table, scraping out my insides like I’m a human jack-o’-lantern. My palms start to sweat at the thought of the foreign heart. I dig my fingernail into
the white flesh underneath my forearm, the spot where the blue veins push up into a plump little bulb at the base of my wrist, and scratch a cherry-red line. A nervous habit I picked up during my
sickness. Illness upon illness, that’s how it works. “Once your new heart is positioned, we’ll sew it in place and stitch together the arteries.” He locks his fingers
together to demonstrate and my stomach performs a flip-flop.