Even though her mom is a nurse, Leslie Ramusack never thought about a career in medicine until years after she was hospitalized for more than a month for a heart transplant. Now she works as an RN in the 36-bed Krannert Unit of University Hospital and in her spare time pursues a passion for running.
She’d never missed a day of school and was the picture of health. But not long after completing grad school at the University of Akron, Leslie Ramusack passed out in her Columbus, Ohio home and began experiencing chest pains.
“I really hadn’t noticed anything wrong until then. Sometimes when I’d turn my head in the car my chest hurt but nothing that I thought was serious,” said Ramusack. It was the beginning of 1998 and she was just starting her first career in financial aid counseling and hoping to eventually move to Philadelphia.
At the urging of her mother, Donna Ramusack, a surgical nurse, Leslie Ramusack made a doctor’s appointment and was told she had an enlarged heart.
Some of the details of her health seem distant when she talks about recent accomplishments. This month she joined more than 40,000 participants for the OneAmerican 500 Festival Mini Marathon. It was the fourth time she’d competed in the race. She has also competed in the Chicago Marathon. In all, she has completed 15 half marathons in seven different states (Indiana, Ohio, California, Illinois, Kentucky, Pennsylvania, & Tennessee), since her first in November of 2014 (The Monumental Marathon in Indy).
“I’m not a fast runner; I just want to finish,” said Ramusack. “I feel so blessed to have my health and I believe God smiles when I run. I believe I have a purpose.”
Running the distance is an accomplishment and a testimony to her road to a healthier heart.
Ramusack was in her 20s and considering a career move when the reality of her heart condition began to set in. Two days before flying out to Philadelphia for a job interview she got a call from her doctor.
“He told me not to walk up a lot of stairs and not to carry my luggage. I arrived in Philly and had a room on the fourth floor with no elevator,” said Ramusack. Her fears became real that first night in Philadelphia. She woke up scared of the unknown and cried and prayed throughout the night.
Three years following her first doctor’s appointment and after she had spent a relaxing Christmas in her parent’s Chicago home Ramusack began to realize the seriousness of her heart condition. She spent New Year’s Eve back in Philadelphia and on the following day she felt like she could collapse.
“I started swelling, retaining water, was tired – showing all the signs of my heart failing. I’d walk down the hill to visit my friend and had to a catch a ride home back up the hill,” she said.
By the end of February 2001 she scheduled an appointment with her cardiologist. She had gained about 30 pounds in water weight and was admitted to the hospital where she remained for the next 45 days. By about the third day she was told she would need a heart transplant. April Fool’s Day she called her mom, Donna and dad, Jerry and told them a new heart had been found and she was scheduled for a heart transplant later that day. Her mom didn’t believe her at first but they quickly made plans to fly to Philadelphia and made it in time to see their daughter in the operating room before her six-hour transplant surgery.
She remains friends with her donor’s father on Facebook and knows that her heart belonged to a 21-year-old man who lived in Mississippi. She was discharged 13 days later and was back to work nine months later. While she was working in financial aid she began volunteering in a hospital as a pastoral care provider.
Three years after Ramusack received her heart transplant, her mother was diagnosed with the same condition and received a heart and kidney transplant. The hospital setting was not foreign to the family but Ramusack had never really thought about pursuing a career in medicine. In fact, at one point she thought about law school. But her volunteer experience in the hospital sparked an interest in nursing.
She obtained her nursing degree in June of 2009 and started working at IU Health in July. She met her husband Devin Tudor, an art teacher, in Indianapolis and the two were married two and half years ago.
“I love being a nurse. I understand being in the hospital from the patient’s perspective,” said Ramusack. “I work with people who have never spent a day in the hospital and I think by being in the hospital as a patient I can see clearly what a great hospital stay looks like. I love hearing all the great life stories from my patients. It’s so important to be able to connect with them.”
— By T.J. Banes, Associate Senior Journalist at IU Health.
Reach Banes via email at T.J. Banes or on Twitter @tjbanes.