A Waiting Game Not for the Faint of Heart

Nothing is more powerful than a story from the heart. Stories of survival make the facts and figures on heart disease and stroke come to life. Take it from Tampa Electric Customer Communications Strategist Mary Lou Carn. She shares why Tampa Electric’s commitment to chair the Tampa Bay Heart Walk on Nov. 4 means so much to her and her family:

I joined the Heart Walk to represent my former sister-in-law, Dawn Baker. Ten years ago, Dawn had a massive heart attack, caused by a blood clot in her heart. A few days before the attack, she had pain in her jaw that she thought was a toothache. Later she had shortness of breath, non-stop sweating and more pains across her body. When she finally went to the hospital, the doctors said she only had minutes to live.

Dawn Baker, 63, is who motivates Tampa Electric Customer Communications Strategist Mary Lou Carn to raise money for the Heart Walk. Her former sister-in-law is on the heart transplant list in Texas and hopes each day she gets “the call.”

Although they saved her life, doctors couldn’t save her heart. They repaired the right side of her heart with a stint, but the left side had irreversible damage, and she’s had congestive heart failure ever since.

For eight years, Dawn faithfully attended cardiac rehabilitation and followed a medication regime. Unfortunately, Dawn caught COVID during the summer of 2021. Her heart and her energy started to rapidly deteriorate. In December of 2022, she was finally approved to be on the heart transplant list.

Waiting for a new heart is not for the faint of heart. It starts with a slew of biannual medical tests to ensure the rest of your body is healthy enough for a donor's heart. It also incorporates an entire team of medical professionals, psychological analysis, insurance fiascos and an enormous financial commitment.

Now that she is on the waiting list, Dawn has to wear a mask and carry her phone 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. She has to follow a heart-healthy diet, exercise regularly under supervision, keep every vaccine up to date and get her body mass index (BMI) down to 26. Lastly, she keeps her suitcase packed so she can get to the hospital at a moment’s notice.

On July 11, 2023, at 5:45 a.m. while Dawn was still sleeping, her phone rang. It was THE CALL. A female organ donor in her thirties was passing on and she was a match for Dawn.

After what seemed like never-ending hospital tests to ensure she was healthy enough to survive the transplant and right before being wheeled into the operating room, Dawn got bad news from her team of doctors. The donor’s heart was not viable. Dawn and our family were devastated. Everyone was so excited about Dawn becoming healthy again. Unfortunately, that would not happen that day, and we don’t know when or if it ever will. Heartbroken, Dawn and her husband packed up and went home to wait for the next call.

Mary Lou is closer to Dawn (seen in the back middle with their kids and grandchildren) than ever before. “Some people may be surprised to learn that we stayed in touch after her brother and I divorced, but we’re closer now than we were when I was married to her brother,” said Mary Lou. “We both feel it’s important that our children stay in contact because the world can be a lonely place without family.”

Since learning about Dawn’s heart failure, I’ve rededicated myself to exercise and am trying to make healthy food choices. Although I can’t help my genetics, I can stop adding to the problem by taking good care of myself. Also, now that I know that stress contributes to health issues, I try not to let things bother me as much as I did in the past.

We take our bodies for granted. We’ve been taught that how we look on the outside is all that matters. But that’s not true. Without a healthy heart to pump your blood, it doesn’t matter what you look like. Heart health awareness is also important for women. Each year hundreds of thousands of women die from heart issues, usually because they’re too busy taking care of everyone else. Women need to recognize the signs and get help as soon as possible.

I love that Tampa Electric is working together as a team to raise awareness of heart health and to save lives. I’m hopeful that our efforts will give another family hope for their loved one like I have for Dawn. She is so thankful we are bringing attention to heart health. She knows the work the American Heart Association does will make it possible for her to see her eight grandchildren grow up. Her dream is to move back to Florida to be closer to all of us. I want to see her dream come true.


You can help dreams like Dawn’s come true by donating to a Tampa Electric Heart Walk team today. Every dollar counts as we inch closer to Nov. 4.