La Crosse Woman Survives Cancer to Find Out She Needs a New Heart
Darla Bingham is this year's "Go Red for Women" Survivor
LA CROSSE, Wis. (WKBT) — As kids return from college for the summer there are a few adjustments to make.
And even a few complaints as everyone finds their routine again.
For the Bingham’s of La Crosse, they also have a new home they’re still getting used to, and a whole new normal after a very long journey that started in October of 2004.
” I had an 8-year-old and a 10-year-old. I went in for my 40th check-up and I found out I had breast cancer”, said 51-year-old Darla Bingham of La Crosse.
For Darla, this meant having both breasts removed, radiation and chemotherapy.
And by 2009, Darla and her husband Bruce had successfully put it all behind them.
Darla was focusing on kids and her work. Until December of 2013… Darla thought she had a persistent cold and cough. But the news she’d get from her doctor was almost unbelievable.
Darla said, ” I was in disbelief, complete disbelief, because I was so active and had no other signs or any reason to think I had a heart condition.”
An active 48-year-old cancer survivor was now looking at something even more frightening than cancer.
” They said Darla you don’t have a cold or pneumonia, you have congestive heart failure and that’s when the told me my heart was enlarged,” according to Darla.
Darla was now facing a whole new battle… her own heart, failing from damage caused by the chemotherapy that had saved her life years earlier.
Doctors had told her there was a 3-percent chance that this could happen and Darla found herself in this very unlucky group. For the next year and a half, Darla would manage her symptoms from her enlarged heart with medicine, but this would be the calm before the storm. In May of 2015 on a vacation with friends in Florida everything would change.
Darla said , “I Woke up the next morning, walked down to the beach and told Bruce something wasn’t right, I could hardly walk down to the beach that morning.”
She checked in with her doctor right away and they discovered her heart was now three times its normal size.
Her husband Bruce said, “she got the message, about a heart transplant and they can do all kinds of miracles. I remember hugging her and saying really a heart transplant?”
It was clear that Darla’s heart was on borrowed time. To live Darla was going to need a new heart.
Her daughter Kimberly remembers, “She couldn’t walk from her bed to the bathroom which was 10 feet. And she has a standing shower so I had to be in the shower with her to hold her up to wash her hair.”
Darla and Bruce were told right away by the Mayo Clinic Transplant team in Rochester that the average wait for heart is a year and a half. At just 5 feet tall and 100 pounds Darla seemed frail, especially compared to other transplant patients… all waiting for a heart.
But Darla said, “It’s my family, they all helped me out, friends, our employers.”
Bruce set up his own workspace in Darla’s room so he could keep getting his work done for Kwik Trip.
Bruce recalled, “I lived in Rochester with Darla, I stayed at friends homes was at the hospital with her nearly every day.”
Darla even managed their new home construction from her room, a project that was already underway when Darla got her diagnosis. She wasn’t taking her situation lying down.
Bruce said, ” right before the transplant, she was walking around her wing, two miles, she was very strong. Take the heart away she was very strong, very healthy.”
And as it turns out Darla’s 5 foot, 100 pound frame would end up working in her favor.
“We were told right away that her frame would be an advantage, that a larger person couldn’t accept a smaller heart,” according to Bruce.
So after all those walks, and countless games of dominoes to stay busy….it happened, just 58 days later. The Bingham’s got the news they were waiting for. On November 5th, 2015 Darla became number 574. The 574th heart transplant at Mayo.
Volunteers at the hospital gave her a special send-off before she headed into the operating room by singing her a hymn.
And as far as the donor, Darla only knows one thing, the person’s age.
A younger person somewhere between the age of 15 and 20.
Darla spent 21 days in the I-C-U and another two months for observation…. earlier this year Darla was allowed to return home and hasn’t looked back since.
“Never, It’s been years since I felt this good, ” said Darla.
In fact, Darla now has the youngest heart in her family,something that hasn’t gone unnoticed by her 19-year-old son son Bryce.
Bryce said this about his mom, “She’s more active than me now unfortunately. But uh…she’s become a younger person.She’s younger than me it seems like.”
And as part of her road to recovery, Bruce made sure Darla got a little reminder about her journey. A license plate that reads “HART574”.
But because Darla’s immune system is still compromised from the transplant… she has to be very careful to take good care of herself. A message she wants to share with all women, “You’ve got to stay active, eat right, get sleep…take care of yourself.”
For now, Darla’s recovery is always in the forefront of her mind… but there is something else that isn’t far away. That donor. Someone she’ll never meet, but gave her a most precious gift. She’s already started writing a letter to the donor’s family so they’ll know just how much their loved one changed her life.
It reads in part, “I think about your family and the special gift you’ve given me numerous times throughout the day. It’s the first thing I think about when I wake in the morning and the last thing before I fall asleep.”