Health & Fitness

Heart transplant gives assistant principal a second chance at life

UHealth surgeon Dr. Matthias Loebe, left, breaks into laughter after Erika Carter-Rolle gives him instructions on the prior use of the device's batteries. An assistant principal at M.A. Milam K-8 Center, Carter-Rolle is recovering from a life-saving heart transplant after eight years of "buying time" through the full spectrum of comprehensive care before getting a transplant. Her doctors and husband joined her during a press conference on Monday, Nov. 23, 2015.
UHealth surgeon Dr. Matthias Loebe, left, breaks into laughter after Erika Carter-Rolle gives him instructions on the prior use of the device's batteries. An assistant principal at M.A. Milam K-8 Center, Carter-Rolle is recovering from a life-saving heart transplant after eight years of "buying time" through the full spectrum of comprehensive care before getting a transplant. Her doctors and husband joined her during a press conference on Monday, Nov. 23, 2015. cjuste@miamiherald.com

After an eight year battle with a worsening heart condition, Erika Carter-Rolle got a second chance at life on Oct. 30 when she got a heart transplant; a day she calls her “second birthday.”

“I said to myself: I’m a warrior and I’m going to get through this,” the assistant principal at M.A. Milam K-8 Center recalled Monday at a press conference at Jackson Memorial Hospital.

Carter-Rolle found her calling advising children. She would often walk across school grounds to check in on multiple classrooms.

But in late 2006, after suffering from a bad cold that never seemed to vanish, she found it nearly impossible walk across campus due to an extreme difficulty breathing.

Erika Carter-Rolle, assistant principal at M.A. Milam K-8 Center in Hialeah, speaks to the media on Monday, November 23, 2015 with her husband and doctors by her side about her LVAD and heart transplants.

A few months later, she was diagnosed with cardiomyopathy, a condition that causes an enlarged, weakened heart that would ultimately lead to heart failure. Over time, she was given a pacemaker, but that was only a temporary fix because her medications did not seem to working. Over the next seven years, she suffered a stroke and Transient Ischemic Attacks (TIAs), or mini-strokes.

Carter-Rolle was determined to win the battle.

In mid-2014, with her health continuing to decline, she was put on the heart donor list.

One day in February of this year, she was across campus and unsure if she could make it back to her office. That day, she went to Jackson Memorial Hospital to meet with UHealth cardiologist, Dr. Sandra Chapparo.

Time was not on their side, but doctors would not give up on Carter-Rolle.

They kept trying new techniques to buy time. In March, they inserted a left ventricular assist device or LVAD. This device is a battery-powered, round tube inserted into the body and connected to the heart, which would help her heart pump blood around her body.

In October, a match was finally made and she underwent heart transplant surgery on Oct. 30.

UHealth surgeons Dr. Matthias Loebe and Dr. Nicholas Brozzi’s successful operation was the first step in Carter-Rolle’s new life.

“Words cannot express really how I feel,” said Carter-Rolle, “but I can state that I am elated and grateful; I feel that it’s a miracle and I’ll be forever grateful to everyone.”

Not only is Carter-Rolle extremely thankful to her donor, but she also wants to meet their family.

“I’ve already been in contact with Life Alliance and hopefully the family will be interested in meeting me as well,” said Carter-Rolle.

While she misses her staff, her smiling students and her perfectly planned schedule, she still has a long road to recovery.

“I miss everyone,” she said. “I’ve been keeping in contact with my staff, expressing how I feel as far as the love and support they’ve given me. I need to focus on my rehabilitation and take it day by day.”

Throughout her struggle, Carter-Rolle looks back at this experience as a learning opportunity: “Instead of waiting for thanksgiving to be thankful, this process has taught me to be grateful for every second of my day.”

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