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Williams Lake heart transplant recipient grateful for life, community

Michelle Ball LaPlace was diagnosed with a heart condition and congestive heart failure in 2016
Michelle Ball LaPlace will cut her hair off on Jan. 26, 2024 to raise funds for the Heart Transplant Home Society. LaPlace received a heart transplant on Jan. 26, 2018. (Photo submitted)

After receiving a second chance at life, a Williams Lake woman will cut her hair off to raise money for the Heart Transplant Home Society.

Michelle Ball LaPlace was diagnosed with a genetic heart condition called hypertrophic cardiomyopathy when she was 13 in 1982. In 2016, at the age of 46, a doctor’s visit revealed she was in congestive heart failure. Twenty-one months later, on Jan. 26, 2018, she finally received a heart transplant. Her brother and father were not so fortunate, both of them dying from the same heart condition. Her older brother died in 1982 when he was only 15. Her father passed away seven years later when he was 51.

When LaPlace was 15, she was told by a Harvard geneticist that any children she would bear later in life, regardless of who she partnered with, had a 75 per cent chance of carrying the same genetic heart condition, she said. However, growing up, she didn’t present any sort of anomalies, and so, reaching her 40s, she assumed she had dodged a bullet.

After returning exhausted from a trip in 2016, a doctor’s visit reported medical edema, a fast heart rate and low blood pressure — all common signs of heart failure. More tests sent her to the hospital in Kamloops and, eventually, Vancouver. That’s when things got real, she said.

Though she was familiar with the condition, it still came as a shock.

“Had I not gone to a doctor, not gotten diagnosed, you know, had all these things happen, I literally would have just been walking along one day, and my heart would have stopped. And that’s pretty much what happened with my dad. He collapsed at home.”

The Heart Transplant Home Society — founded by Ron Bayne and Peter Quinn, each a recipient of a heart transplant — works to alleviate the financial stress that comes along with needing a heart transplant or a ventricular assist device. They offer subsidized accommodation for heart transplant recipients and their caregivers and have two suits near St. Paul’s hospital.

The timing of receiving a heart transplant is unknown. LaPlace first received the call for her heart transplant in August 2017, which resulted in what’s called a dry run.

“The organ was no longer viable for transplant, meaning that it had become too weakened,” said LaPlace. “It’s a real roller coaster ride because you get your hopes up, and then there’s all that anxiety and nervousness about the surgery itself and the recovery and everything, and then none of it happens.”

Along with the physical, mental and emotional stress, there’s the financial stress. Heart transplant patients have months-long recoveries and are unable to work, despite any bills lingering at home and recovering in the expensive city of Vancouver. St. Paul’s Hospital in Vancouver is the only B.C. hospital that does heart transplants. Along with the recovering recipient, their caregivers — often the spouse or parents — are unable to work, as well.

“I will never not be overwhelmed with the gratitude of this beautiful city [of Williams Lake] and the people who know me for their generosity … If it had not been for that, we would not have been able to fiscally do this without losing our house.”

LaPlace finally got the call for a heart transplant on Jan. 25 around dinner time. She and her husband, Jamie, caught the last flight of that very same evening out of Williams Lake, she said.

“They actually held the plane for us, which they’re never supposed to do.”

The next day, she received the heart transplant and described her recovery story as incredible and lucky. She and her husband have travel plans coming up, though she does have to be careful to avoid getting sick. She’ll be on immunosuppressant medication for the rest of her life.

In the meantime, on Jan. 26, at 12 p.m., LaPlace will broadcast live on social media, cutting off her long, red locks. Donations can be made at

“Every day is a gift. That’s why it’s called the present,” she said.

READ MORE: A change of heart for lakecity resident

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Kim Kimberlin, Local Journalism Initiative

About the Author: Kim Kimberlin, Local Journalism Initiative

I joined Black Press Media in 2022, and have a passion for covering topics on women’s rights, 2SLGBTQIA+ and racial issues, mental health and the arts.
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