A family honors a sister and daughter who lived fully despite a lifetime of heart disease.
If you think about it, Sammie’s life was like one big medical miracle,” says Brigitte Remington of her eldest daughter, Samantha, who died last February at age 23 of heart disease.
Samantha was born in 1992 with cardiomyopathy, an enlarged heart, which doctors think developed because of a virus in utero. “At the time, they had only been doing infant heart transplants for about five years at Children’s Hospital,” says Remington, whose husband, Barry Remington, is a former linebacker for the University of Colorado Buffaloes. “Samantha was put on a wait list for another infant heart, and we carried a pager, knowing we could get a call at any time. After seven weeks, we got the call at 3 in the morning. I’ll never forget it.” Samantha was only 4 months old when she got that first life-saving heart transplant.
“She did great and accepted the heart,” Remington recalls. “She led a different life for sure—she had to get her heart checked all the time, and there were a lot of pokes and prods and surgeries—but it was also a normal life. She had a healthy heart in her body, so she was able to exercise and be with her family, and in high school she got into theater and acting. She was very strong and very brave.”
In early 2010, when Samantha was 17, doctors discovered that her first heart was failing; by that May, her symptoms were acute enough that she was put on the transplant list once again. This time, amazingly, she had to wait only five days for a second heart.
Samantha became active in the American Heart Association, participating in fundraisers and fashion shows and also going to elementary schools to talk to kids about her own history and the importance of staying healthy. “She was really into kids,” her mom says, “and was able to earn her teaching certificate and teach preschool in her last few years. And she loved to tell them her story. They would ask her the kinds of questions only kids can ask—like did it hurt when she had a heart transplant. She would say that it was like a car part; the doctors would take her heart out because it was an unhealthy heart, and then put in a new heart.”
In 2010, after Samantha’s second transplant, her family launched the Angel Heart Foundation, to help “young adults who are struggling with paying their medical bills,” Remington says. “It’s not a big foundation, but we hope to continue helping two families a year, because medical bills can be very stressful. It’s a way for us to pay it forward.”
Now, a year after Samantha’s death, Remington looks back at a daughter who taught her own family how to live. “Because of her strength, we all just joined right in fighting alongside her,” she says. “She was the oldest child, and she was very close with her siblings (sisters Cassie and Carly, pictured at left with their mom, and brother Jack) and took them under her wing. They grew up watching her deal with this, and she was so wise about it all, and I think they use her to fight through whatever they are dealing with.
“They learned toughness from her. She never gave up. She would always fight, and we have held on to that and tried to use her strength to power forward.”
801,000: Number of people in the United States who died from heart disease, stroke or other cardiovascular diseases in 2013. That’s about one out of every three deaths in America.