FACTORYVILLE — Joy Andrukat Hart, a former Tunkhannock resident who has been suffering many heart problems through the years, thinks it’s “phenomenal” that her former classmates are still showing they care, four decades after graduation.
Hart, 57, is currently awaiting news on whether she will be able to receive a heart transplant. Her graduating class, Tunkhannock High School’s Class of ‘75, organized a fundraiser called have a Heart for a Hart, held at Pennbrook Grove on Sunday, Oct. 11.
She reconnected with her classmates during the 40th anniversary reunion in August. After learning her situation, her friends held a 50/50 raffle during the reunion to help defray some of her living expenses, for she is currently unable to work.
“These are people I haven’t seen in almost 40 years,” said Hart. “Their hearts are bigger than any I could ever hope for.”
Shortly after the reunion, one of her reunited friends, Susan Rayno Arvonio, talked with Rich Shaver, owner of Pennbrook Grove in Factoryville, about setting up a fundraiser to help Hart not only for living expenses but also to help defray the cost of her possible heart transplant, if approved, to be performed at the Vanderbilt Medical Center in Nashville, Tenneessee.
“She is a friend in need,” Arvonio said about Hart.
Arvonio and some of Hart’s friends from the class of ‘75, including Carol Sherwood, Cindy Clary, Dawn Rogers, and Chris Stivala, set up the Heart for a Hart fundraiser with homemade foods including a pork roast dinner for a $10 donation. This event also raised funds by a bake sale, raffle prizes, and a 50/50 raffle. There were also children’s outdoor games and live music performed by Arvonio’s friends.
“We had a good turnout,” said Shaver, owner of Pennbrook Grove. “The food was good. The raffle baskets were nice.”
Hart has had a heart murmur since birth. Five years ago, she suffered a mini-stroke for which she was hospitalized for a week at St. Anthony’s Hospital outside of Tampa, Florida. Her ejection fraction (EF), which measures how much blood is pumping through her heart, was only 25 percent, with doctors telling her normal is 65 percent. The results of her testing showed that she has cardiomyopathy, congestive heart failure, and an enlarged heart with a leaky valve. Her doctors recommended her to get a heart transplant unless her heart became stronger.
Since she is classified as a Vietnam-era veteran, Hart was able to apply for VA (Veterans Affairs) medical benefits in October 2010. She was approved by the Bay Pines VA Medical Center in Tampa, Florida.
“With their help, my heart EF improved to 45 percent, and remained steady through 2014,” said Hart.
In 2015, her heart’s EF started to decline again. She had two minor heart attacks, one in January and one in March. In May, she was admitted to the Bay Pines Medical Center again. Her cardiologist and her physician’s assistant recommended her to have a left ventricle assist device (LVAD). Since Bay Pines doesn’t implant LVADs or perform heart transplants, the doctors contacted the VA for funding approval for her to receive both of them at the Vanderbilt Medical Center in Nashville, Tennessee. She was approved for the LVAD; therefore, she underwent open heart surgery for a Heartware LVAD, which she currently uses to help her heart pump blood and oxygen. Since her LVAD’s controller was faulty, she had to undergo another open heart surgery on May 30 for a second LVAD.
Hart’s niece Laura Colwell, stayed in a hotel with her for 2 1/2 months.
“She (Colwell) has been my primary caregiver,” said Hart.
Colwell postponed her wedding to take care of Hart. But when her fiancée drove to Nashville to pick up Colwell’s daughter, they decided to get married there by an Elvis impersonator.
Since the surgeries, Hart was bed-ridden, finding it difficult to walk. On July 3, she was admitted to the Stallworth Physical Rehabilitation Center for two weeks of physical and occupational therapy. She and Colwell flew back to her home in Pennsylvania on July 17.
“I would no longer be able to live by myself, at least until I received a heart transplant,” said Hart. “So, my mother (Lorraine Bauman) and father (David Andrukat) opened their home (in Carbondale) to me. My caregivers now consist of three of the most important women in my life — my mother Lorraine, my sister Deb (Debbie Wasnock, a nurse in Carbondale), and her daughter Laura.”
Hart still visits Vanderbilt Medical Center every three weeks. During her last visit on Oct. 1, she was told that her case will be presented to the transplant board at Vanderbilt on Oct. 13. She will soon receive a call to see if she is approved for a heart transplant.
Hart has been enlisted in the Army’s Delayed Entry Program in 1975. She received basic training at Fort Jackson, South Carolina and advanced individual training as a finance specialist at Fort Benjamin, Indiana.
On October 1984, she was married in the Republic of Panama to the late William S. Hart, who passed away in September 2004.
Hart currently lives with her parents, who are both on fixed incomes but still provide her necessities. She feels blessed that she has family and her reunited friends from Tunkhannock to give her so much support.
“There aren’t words that can say how I feel,” said Hart. “I grew up in a small town, but it’s a small town with big hearts. Class of ‘75 rules!”