by Dennis Dalman
Maria Legatt of St. Paul loves to run around the block. She doesn’t run much farther, but that’s just fine with her because a year ago she couldn’t even walk around the block.
Legatt, a 1996 graduate of Sartell High School, received a heart transplant on Aug. 4, 2011. This Saturday, Aug. 4, to celebrate her first year with a new heart, Legatt will host the “Hearts Healing Hearts 5k Run/Walk Race at Pine Meadow Elementary School in Sartell. Registration will begin at 8:30 a.m., and the race will start at 9:30 am.
“This race is for anyone under the sun,” Legatt said.
All proceeds will be given to the non-profit Young Adult Heart Foundation, of which Legatt is a co-founder and executive director. The mission of the organization is to reach out to young adults with heart issues throughout the Upper Midwest. The people connect through support groups and online and share educational resources, medical updates, insurance problems and other information. The most important aspect of the Young Adult Foundation is to provide moral support, “a shoulder to cry on” and “being able to hold hands through hard times.”
Legatt knows first-hand the healing powers of moral support.
Born and raised in St. Stephen, the daughter of Mary Justin and Fred Legatt, Maria was diagnosed as having hypertropic cardiomyopathy when she was only 8 years old. As the years went by, the heart condition took its slow but relentless toll on her health, eventually forcing her to quit her job as an environmental toxicologist. She was incredibly weak physically, and the slightest exertion could exhaust her.
Finally, about 18 months ago, doctors said she would have to have a heart transplant. She was put on a waiting list and, finally, a year ago she had the operation in the Twin Cities. After eight days in the hospital, she was allowed to come home and then do follow-up therapy sessions.
Legatt’s heart transplant was, literally, a new lease on life.
“I feel like a toddler,” she said, “because I’m learning to do things I never could do. My energy level is restored, and it’s just unbelievable what a change it is from before. I can go horseback riding, hiking, running, biking, swimming. I never dreamed I’d be able to do all those things.”
Her biggest supporter and fan is her husband, Dane Anderson, who is a physical-therapist assistant.
“When I’m training, he is so helpful,” she said. “He gives me tremendous moral support, and he is so level-headed about everything.”
At this point, Legatt does not know who her new heart came from. She does know that it is a member of a family in Mississippi. She has written them a note of lavish thanks and is awaiting news on whether they want to share more details.
“I feel so blessed for this new heart,” Legatt said.
People will have a chance to meet Legatt at the run/walk this Saturday in Sartell.
At the event, there will be a tent where survivors of heart problems can share insights about what they’ve been through. There will also be an informational table about the important of CPR exercise, especially in all schools; and a blood-pressure screening station.
One of Legatt’s goals as a member of the Young Adult Heart Foundation is to urge schools to stress CPR. There are a number of young adults who have no idea they have heart problems until one sad day they collapse, often while exercising or running. If more people knew CPR, many of those victims could be saved right on the spot, Legatt noted.
“Sometimes not even a doctor knows a young person has a heart problem,” she said.
Besides her dedicated work for the Young Adult Heart Foundation and experiencing the newfound joys of physical exercise in its many forms, Legatt lavishes her affection on animals, especially her three cats – Momo, Rusty and Stubby – and her 14-year-old chihuahua, Lizzie.
She and Lizzie have a heart-to-heart understanding.
“As my heart condition became worse, we noticed that Lizzie started to faint now and then, and we found out she, too, had a heart problem,” Legatt said. “She had to take some of the same medications I did. When I was in the hospital so many times, Lizzie would miss me so much. She knew there was something wrong with me. Lizzie is still on meds, and she is back to normal. The veterinarian said she wouldn’t live much past six months. It’s three years later, and Lizzie is doing just fine. The veterinarians are amazed by that.”
Those who know Legatt, too, are amazed. They relish seeing her enjoy a new zest for life. They applaud her courage and love to see her “bloom” into an active, connective, happy woman.