‘I keep my old heart in a plastic bag – now I’ve inherited my donor’s traits’

 (Jam Press Vid/@jessica.elenanz)
(Jam Press Vid/@jessica.elenanz)

A woman who had a heart transplant and keeps her original organ in a plastic bag claims she’s inherited some of her donor’s traits – and reveals what a human heart really feels like to hold in your hands.

Jessica Manning didn’t have an easy start in life, being diagnosed with several heart defects, including having half a heart, just days after being born.

At the age of 25, she had already undergone 200 minor and major surgeries, including her final procedure of a heart transplant via donation.

* Graphic content warning *

The influencer, who has over 69,000 followers (@jessica.elenanz) is now using social media to raise awareness for her condition and organ donation.

In a YouTube video published on Shera (@shera_oficl), a digital platform dedicated to empowering women, the 29-year-old talks about her “cookie dough” looking organ.

She also discusses the “bizarre” side effects faced, which she believes are previous traits “inherited” from her donor.

In the interview with Shera, she says: “I don’t know if it’s my taste buds changing over the last few years or if it’s actually a sour memory that has just come over from my donor.

“My taste in food has changed completely and I have this new love for vegetables.

“If you knew me, you’d never see a green thing on my plate, ever – but now I love avocado, cabbage and pumpkin.

“I also add spinach to everything and it’s a good thing, as these are [foods] I used to refuse to eat or pick out.”

 (Jam Press/@jessica.elenanz)
(Jam Press/@jessica.elenanz)

Jessica, who is currently studying at university in Auckland, New Zealand, has been formally diagnosed with six heart defects in total.

Until her transplant, she claims life was a “rollercoaster” and there were instances where she thought her time was up.

At aged 19, she suffered complete heart failure and then a second time only three years later, which “destroyed” the rest of her heart.

In April 2017, she was placed on the transplant list and in September 2018, she underwent the procedure, which was a success.

Initially, she decided to donate the organ for research, but 10 months later, she was told it was no longer needed.

Now, she keeps her old heart in a plastic bag and uses this to educate others – but the student also has another very special reason behind the keepsake.

 (Jam Press/@jessica.elenanz)
(Jam Press/@jessica.elenanz)

She said: “When I purchase a house, I want to bury it and plant a tree on top and dedicate it to my donor.

“In New Zealand, within Maori culture, we bury our organs or body parts with us when we pass away in a sacred place.

“As a transplant recipient, it’s almost impossible to put into words how thankful we are, not just to our donor, but to the donor’s family.

“I’ve never known what it actually felt like to have a whole heart inside of my chest before and the feeling of having a full heart is honestly the most incredible thing.

“I can hear it in my head and everything I do in life, I do for my donor.

“Achieving my goals and doing all the things I love is to celebrate that my donor is still living.”

 (Jam Press Vid/@jessica.elenanz)
(Jam Press Vid/@jessica.elenanz)

Until then, she will continue to raise awareness for donation and transplants – with her most asked question: What does the old heart feel like?

Jessica added: “It’s extremely tough, rubbery, almost like a tire and it’s not as squishy as people think.

“It’s in a preservative fluid called formaldehyde, which prevents it from rotting and decomposing for up to 30 years.

“I haven’t opened up the bag for that reason, but I did accidentally pierce a hole and ended up going to a butcher to reseal the bag.

“I’ve had parents saying how much my story gives them hope for their child’s future and I love this, as it’s not something my mum was told when I was going through this.

“I have never had a normal life, as I’ve always been sick and it’s been extremely hard mentally to start life over again.

“But, there is light at the end of the tunnel and no matter how hard the situation, you’ve got to have a positive mindset.”