Baylor St. Luke’s Heart Exchange Support Group Provides Confidence to Patients and Volunteers Alike

How volunteering gave Nigeria Evans renewed independence after heart transplant

Nigeria Evans and her mom have always been extremely close while still maintaining their own independence. Even through adulthood, Nigeria and her mother would see one another often because they lived so close. In 2007, at age 33, Nigeria drove to see her mother and was unknowingly experiencing heart problems. Nigeria was found by her mom moments later, slumped beside her vehicle, having just suffered a major heart attack.

The ambulance brought Nigeria to Baylor St. Luke’s Medical Center, and X-rays confirmed a mechanical pump would be necessary to help her heart function. But before the LVAD could be implanted, Nigeria flatlined.

“I’ve still never asked Dr. Frazier how long I was gone,” says Nigeria, remembering how scared she was upon hearing of her own code blue. For the next nine months, Nigeria’s mother did not leave her side while Nigeria had to learn how to walk, talk, and perform daily functions again.

Over the next two-and-a-half years, Nigeria’s heart would only pump with the help of her LVAD implant, and Dr. Frazier told Nigeria’s mother a heart transplant was vital.

“And oh goodness—that scared me! I thought I’d be on the LVAD machine and then get better,” says Nigeria, not realizing the opportunities her transplant would bring. From being a strong, independent, 33-year-old before her heart attack, Nigeria had become extremely reliant on the support of her mom. But on December 22, 2009, Nigeria began a new life with her new heart.

Years prior, the Heart Exchange Support Group at Baylor St. Luke’s first appeared in Nigeria’s life, but due to her condition, she didn’t remember their meetings at all. “My mom told me all about the visits and gifts they brought me, but I didn’t even realize what was happening.”

But now, Nigeria wanted to know more. The day Nigeria went seeking more information about the Heart Exchange Support Group was the first time she walked into Baylor St. Luke’s hospital on her own, and it would begin her new path to independence. “When I first started, I was very shy, but I was trying to be strong,” says Nigeria about her beginnings as a volunteer. “I was so proud of myself because I did it all on my own.”

And now, eight years later, Nigeria can be counted on to be volunteering at the hospital every week. Her experience with the Heart Exchange Support Group has given her the confidence to start living for herself. Nigeria says she will never forget that first time she went to the hospital on her own. Now she is living on her own and is on track to graduate next semester with a degree in sociology. Though her mother is no longer here, Nigeria knows her strength, resilience, and volunteering continue to make her mom proud every day.

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