POSTED: 1:30 a.m. HST, Oct 21, 2010
Question: What ever happened to Marita "Marie" Cruz, the 26-year-old Wahiawa woman who needed a heart and lung transplant in 2007 and was medically evacuated that year to Northern California?
Answer: Cruz, now 28, got her transplant and a new life in Fairfield, Calif.
After waiting on the transplant list for 18 months, Cruz received a new heart and lungs at Stanford University School of Medicine on April 14, 2009.
The following October, she married Jesse Ferrari and now goes by the name Marie Ferrari -- "like the car," she said.
She continues to work as an insurance agent, but in December will graduate with a master's degree in human resource management from Chapman University in Southern California.
Ferrari was born with a ventricular septal defect, commonly known as a hole in the heart, and relied on an oxygen tank 24 hours a day. The condition left Ferrari with a smoky, Marilyn Monroe-like voice.
But since the surgery, Ferrari now has the voice -- and body -- of a teenager.
"Everything changed after my transplant, not just my voice," she said via telephone from California. "I actually look 14 now. I have no idea why. My doctors wondered about that, too."
Ferrari was never a runner but has since completed three 10-kilometer races.
There were some medical complications.
While recovering from the operation, Ferrari said she was medically dead for seven minutes and saw her dead grandmother; her best friend, who died while waiting for a heart transplant; and a Hispanic woman with dark, curly hair and large, bulging eyes whom Ferrari did not recognize.
Ferrari would learn that her heart and lungs had come from a 25-year-old woman named Lupita Lopez, who died of an aneurysm while Lopez was eight months pregnant with a son.
"I think that other woman I saw during those seven minutes was Lupita," Ferrari said.
A year after her operation, the Ferraris invited Lopez's family, including Lopez's 1-year-old son, to their home in Fairfield for dinner.
"The boy looked at our house and was screaming out, 'Momma, Momma, Momma,'" Ferrari said. "That scared me. I held him and he was really, really comfortable with me. He couldn't stop looking into my eyes and he was putting his head against my chest where my heart is. I guess we had a connection there."
People in Hawaii and California contributed $50,000 toward Ferrari's medical expenses. She donated that money to the National Foundation for Transplants.
"My insurance paid most of my costs," Ferrari said. "I'm working and I can pay for my own stuff. But I know there's a lot of people who really need it. So I distributed it to all the other transplant patients."
This update was written by Dan Nakaso. You can write to us at What Ever Happened To, Honolulu Star-Advertiser, 500 Ala Moana Blvd., Suite 7-210, Honolulu 96813; call 529-4747; or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.