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People Give Big Gift to Birthday Girl--a New Heart

March 29, 1988|CURTIS L. TAYLOR | Times Staff Writer

LeNore Flowers was going to die if she couldn't raise the money for a badly needed heart transplant. Left with no place to go, she turned to the people of San Diego with her plea.

The community responded by raising $70,000 to give LeNore the gift of life for her birthday--a new heart.

LeNore, who turned 19 on Monday, underwent a 3 1/2-hour heart transplant operation Sunday night at Sharp Memorial Hospital in San Diego and is listed in critical condition.

On Monday, she was alert and showed no signs of rejecting the new heart, the hospital spokeswoman added.

"This is the greatest birthday gift she could ask for," said LaGhana Packer, LeNore's mother. "The doctors said they couldn't have found a better heart for her. She received a very good heart from a young donor."

"I feel relieved," Packer said about her daughter's condition. "I feel very, very blessed and thankful. Without God and San Diego's help, it would have never happened."

LeNore was diagnosed two years ago as having cardiomyopathy, a disease that weakens the heart muscle. The cause of the disease is unknown, but doctors speculate that it might be hereditary or transmitted by a virus. Medical experts say that the two most common victims of the disease are people who have had multiple heart attacks and young women who have recently given birth.

Doctors believe that LeNore's heart was weakened by stress brought on three years ago when she gave birth to her daughter.

Packer was told by doctors at Sharp Memorial that LeNore would die before she turned 21 unless a $136,000 heart transplant operation was performed. After making the diagnosis, the hospital put the young woman at the top of the list of patients needing a heart transplant.

Doctors also told Packer that since LeNore is a Medi-Cal recipient, the family would have to raise the money or transfer LeNore to Stanford University Medical Center, where she would be placed on a long waiting list for heart transplant operations. (The state-funded Medi-Cal program will pay for the heart transplant only if it is performed at Stanford).

Packer elected to stay in San Diego, and appealed to the community for help.

Doctors at Sharp agreed to perform the operation without charging their fees, cutting the cost to $70,000. The community responded by raising more than $40,000 with the help of Vernon Sukuma of the Black Federation, black community newspapers, and radio stations that aired weekly pledge-a-thon spots.

Despite the outpouring of support, the fund for LeNore was still about $25,000 short.

But Cox Cable Co. volunteered to make up the difference by first pledging $10,000 and then loaning the fund the money needed to perform the operation immediately.

On Monday, while LeNore was recovering in the hospital, a birthday party was held in her honor at the office of the San Diego Urban League. During the party, Cox Cable officials were presented with a $20,000 check by administrators of the transplant fund as payment for money loaned by the cable company for LeNore's operation, said Packer.

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