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News / Health / Clark County Health

Two families, one heart: OHSU heart transplant patient from Vancouver lives life to the fullest almost three decades after surgery

Woman has become friends with family of heart donor

By Chrissy Booker, Columbian staff writer
Published: December 2, 2023, 6:06am
4 Photos
Sharol Lucey, a 76-year-old Vancouver resident, is among the longest-living heart transplant patients in the region. She sits near a picture of her heart donor, Steven Haugen, who died in 1997, making her life possible.
Sharol Lucey, a 76-year-old Vancouver resident, is among the longest-living heart transplant patients in the region. She sits near a picture of her heart donor, Steven Haugen, who died in 1997, making her life possible. (Photos by Amanda Cowan/The Columbian) Photo Gallery

The heart that brought two families together 26 years ago still beats rhythmically in Sharol Lucey’s chest.

Lucey, a 76-year-old Vancouver resident, is among the longest-living heart transplant patients treated in Oregon. The heart donated by Steven Haugen only hours after his death has thrummed in her chest since 1997. Today, Lucey honors him by living life to the fullest, helping others and raising awareness about organ donation.

“Heart transplants are a blessing with a very dark cloud. Someone had to die for you to get this gift,” Lucey said. “Both Steven’s mom and his two sisters have expressed to me that it’s a little bit of a ray of sunshine coming through, seeing the good that his donation has done in someone else’s life.”

Beating heart

Lucey grew up in Vancouver and had always lived a healthy life. She owned a successful window-tinting business in her 40s. She enjoys baking, spending time with her family and traveling with her husband, Mike.

Become a Donor

In Washington, you can register as an organ, eye and tissue donor three ways:
• In person when you apply for your driver’s license, instruction permit or ID card. The donor symbol will be placed on your card and your name will be sent to the organ donor registry.
• Online. Visit www.lcnw.org and add your name to the registry.
• By mail. Send a letter with your name and address to LifeCenter Northwest, 3650 131st Ave. S.E. Suite 200, Bellevue, WA 98006.

“She’s had many ups and downs throughout the years, but she’s always been determined,” Mike Lucey said. The two met on a blind date 58 years ago and have been together ever since.

It was October 1992 when Lucey first began experiencing heart problems. Doctors performed a series of tests until May 1993, when Lucey was officially diagnosed with congestive heart failure.

“The doctor told me I had a heart valve that was bad, but that the issues were from cardiomyopathy,” Lucey said.

Cardiomyopathy is a disease of the heart muscle that diminishes its ability to pump blood to the rest of the body.

For the next four years, Lucey’s heart condition worsened. Even simple tasks like curling her hair or making the bed would fatigue her. She eventually closed her window-tinting business. By that time, her health had completely deteriorated.

Eventually, her doctors at Oregon Health & Science University told her she would need a new heart to survive. They placed her on the transplant list in October 1996. Six months later, on April 25, 1997, she received her donor heart.

“It does play some head games with you,” Lucey said. “A transplant is one of those things you’re hoping for, but in the back of your mind you know that someone has lost their life.”

Steven’s heart

Steven Haugen, 35, was a former Vancouver resident living in Portland at the time of his murder. He was a longtime Costco employee and father of two daughters. He enjoyed fixing cars, skiing and riding motorcycles.

On April 21, 1997, the night of the incident leading to his death, he’d been at the house of a friend who had recently moved away from her former boyfriend.

That night, Haugen’s car broke down, so he slept on the couch at his friend’s house. At 11 p.m., the boyfriend broke in and beat Haugen with the head of a shotgun. An ambulance took Haugen to OHSU, where he died days later on April 24, 1997, from his injuries.

A week after Haugen’s death, more than 200 people attended his memorial service at a Lutheran church in Gresham. His killer was sentenced to 25 years in prison.

“It’s still painful,” said Marlene Klopf, Haugen’s mother. “It has completely changed my life.”

A card in Haugen’s wallet let doctors know he wanted to be an organ donor. Nine hours after his death, Lucey and her family got the call from OHSU. They immediately packed and headed to the hospital, where Lucey said goodbye to her loved ones, not knowing if she would make it back.

“When I was wheeled down that hall, I just put it in God’s hand,” she said.

After 6½ hours, Lucey came out of a successful surgery with Haugen’s heart beating in her chest. She became the 303rd heart transplant recipient at OHSU.

“Surviving with a transplant and living with an organ that requires long-term care and attention takes a special person. And Sharol is special,” said Dr. Deborah Meyers, associate professor of medicine and head of heart failure and transplant cardiology at OHSU. “She is still living a full and active life despite the challenges she has faced.”

Joined by one heart

After recovering from surgery, Lucey continued to enjoy all the things she loved before her transplant, like spending time with her grandchildren. But she yearned to learn more about the donor who made her happy life possible.

Lucey and her husband began researching. The two came across articles about Haugen’s death and slowly started putting the pieces together. Three months after the transplant, Lucey and her daughter, Deena, had a chance encounter with one of Haugen’s former co-workers, and his identity was confirmed.

The OHSU donor program will accept contact information from organ recipients who want to reach out to donors’ families, but the family decides whether to connect.

Klopf reached out to Lucey a year after the transplant surgery.

The first time the two families met, they talked for three hours. Over the years, Lucey and Klopf’s friendship grew. They shared meals and even traveled the world together. To this day, the strength of the bond forged by Haugen’s heart has not diminished, Klopf said.

Both Lucey and Klopf are also proud advocates of the organ-donation program at OHSU.

“Obviously he had a very strong heart,” Klopf said. “He didn’t deserve this, but at least his heart could live on in Sharol.”

A 26-year journey

Living for 15 to 20 years with a heart transplant is common, Meyers said. And while Lucey’s operation was successful, some complications arose a couple years down the line.

Lucey underwent three valve-replacement surgeries between 2001 and 2005 after doctors determined her new heart had a bicuspid aortic valve. (That means the valve has two flaps instead of the normal three.)

Because a heart with a bicuspid aortic valve doesn’t pump as efficiently, people with this condition sometimes need surgery. At the time, these procedures were much more invasive. Surgeons had to cut through Lucey’s sternum and spread her ribs to implant a mechanical valve. In total, Lucey has had her chest opened five times.

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“When I first got the (transplant) surgery, they told me I had five years,” Lucey said. “Never in my wildest dreams did I think I’d be 76 years old.”

In 2006, she participated in research for genetic testing for idiopathic cardiomyopathy. (Idiopathic means from an unknown cause.)

OHSU offers a genetic test that can tell anyone at any age whether they are at risk for developing idiopathic cardiomyopathy. Lucey’s kids and grandkids were tested; they did not inherit the gene.

Lucey remains determined to raise awareness not only about organ donation but also about heart ailments like the faulty valve in her donor heart. Because her new heart valve is mechanical, it’s audible from less than a foot away.

“Every night when we go to bed, I can hear her heart pumping,” Mike Lucey said. “It’s the best sound.”

Community Funded Journalism logo

This story was made possible by Community Funded Journalism, a project from The Columbian and the Local Media Foundation. Top donors include the Ed and Dollie Lynch Fund, Patricia, David and Jacob Nierenberg, Connie and Lee Kearney, Steve and Jan Oliva, The Cowlitz Tribal Foundation and the Mason E. Nolan Charitable Fund. The Columbian controls all content. For more information, visit columbian.com/cfj.

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