POCATELLO, Idaho (KIFI/KIDK) - For 36-year-old Mandy Dutton, life has always had its challenges. Born with Epstein’s anomaly, Dutton’s had six open-heart surgeries since she was 10 days old, with three alone in 2009.
“It was a lot that year. I was basically in the hospital a year,” she explained.
Things had gotten better by the time her husband, Bryan, came into the picture.
“She recovered and she ended up feeling OK to go home,” he said.
For nearly a decade, things were flowing pretty smoothly. But recently, before a planned weekend vacation in Salt Lake City, doctors discovered that Mandy’s ten-year-old heart value was leaking and needed replacement.
“It was just supposed to be an overnight thing,” Mandy explained. “So we went and I didn’t respond very well to the surgery. I got fluid overload and it was just a lot on my body and my kidneys shut down.”
She spent 10 days in the ICU on 24-hour dialysis.
“We didn’t think I was going to make it,” Mandy recalled. “I don’t remember much, I was so out of it, but I knew I was in trouble.”
Doctors began discussing a heart transplant, but testing revealed Mandy had liver and lung damage. The potential for complications was a risk many hospitals weren't willing to take.
For Mandy, not being on a donor list was “really devastating.”
“I was finally starting to think, ‘Oh, we could retire and I’ll be a normal person when we get older and we can do all these things and see our grandkids grow up’ … So, at first it was hard...but now it’s just Plan B.”
“It’s been quite the experience,” Bryan said. “Now, it’s just kind of getting to the point where it’s way different and we’re having to change the way we do things.”
For Bryan, Mandy and their four kids, Plan B is a move to Washington state -- where a different climate, lower elevation and proximity to hospitals in Portland and Seattle seem to be the answer.
“If that gets me an extra five years for technology to keep up with me, then it’s worth it,” Mandy said.
With medical bills mounting, the family wasn’t sure how they could afford to make the move. But a chance encounter ten years ago held the answer.
In 2009, while Mandy was splitting the year between Primary Children’s Hospital and the University of Utah, Paul Cardall was waiting for a heart at Primary Children's.
“I would always see him walking in the hall, or he would go and play the piano,” Mandy explained.
As it would turn out, Dutton and Cardall had the same doctors and even the same surgeon.
When Mandy was in the hospital this year, her mother saw that Cardall was in Utah and reached out on Facebook.
“And he came up to the hospital and he spent a good hour or more with us,” she explained, adding that they’ve stayed in touch since.
During a recent conversation with Dutton, Cardall asked if she had set up a fundraising page. She hadn’t.
“Within three minutes, he texts back, ‘you do now,’” she said.
Since the page was set up on Nov. 30, nearly 100 donors have raised over $5,000 to help the family. But the outreach has gone beyond the GoFundMe page.
“Someone went and paid my girls’ ballet for the rest of the year, or until we move. Just random things like that,” Mandy said with tears in her eyes. “We’ve had meals this whole time I’ve been sick constantly coming in. I don’t know if our freezer is ever empty.”
The support is something that Bryan said has “blindsided” them.
“There’s someone upstairs looking out for us and is using Paul as their instrument to help us,” Mandy said, “because we don’t know, we don’t know what’s next.”
As a way of showing gratitude to all who’ve donated, the Duttons have painted wooden hearts, red for those they know and gold for anonymous donors.
When it became obvious there were too many hearts for their trees, the family turned to the piano.
“Cause that’s where our nativity is and it’s right in front of a sign that we have, that’s always been in our house... that says ‘Believe there is good in the world’ and it’s be the good,” Mandy explained. “That, I think, sums up this whole thing that we’ve gone through.”