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Double Artificial Heart Recipient: Religious, Devoted, Caring

February 13, 1986

TUCSON, Ariz. (AP) _ Bernadette Chayrez, the first person to twice receive an artificial heart, worked the midnight shift at a factory while raising three children and is known as a deeply religious woman with a strong will to live.

The 40-year-old divorcee remained in critical condition today at University Medical Center but was gaining strength. Doctors hoped she could recover enough for a second human heart transplant, giving her a fifth heart.

On Sunday, she became the first person to receive a second Jarvik-70 artificial heart.

She’s a ″tough lady (with) a real strong will to live,″ said her heart surgeon, Dr. Jack G. Copeland. ″I think she enjoys life.″

Her own heart had been damaged from a viral infection. When her lungs, kidneys and liver began to fail Feb. 3, Copeland turned to the mini-Jarvik to keep her alive until a donor heart was found. On Feb. 7, he transplanted a human heart, which stopped beating two days later, leading to the second Jarvik implant.

In all, she received three replacement hearts and underwent major surgery four times in six days.

Relatives and friends say Ms. Chayrez is filled with love, grit and pluck.

″She’s a person that you could depend on, anything, it doesn’t matter who they are, what color, race, what religion,″ said George Holguin, who has known her for 19 years. ″She was there to help anyone who asked, she was more than glad, she gave everything.″

Holguin, Ms. Chayrez’s neighbor in a predominantly Hispanic neighborhood in Phoenix, said that when he collapsed from exhaustion several years ago after caring day and night for his ill father, she ″would come every day and bring food so that I would have something to eat.″

″She did that for about seven or eight months,″ even though ″she just barely had enough for her own,″ he said.

The hospital has not said how much Ms. Chayrez’ medical care has cost, but did say that since artificial hearts are experimental, whatever is not covered by insurance would be picked up as a research expense.

Ms. Chayrez’ family has declined to talk about her, at her mother’s request. But an aunt, Mrs. Henry Chayrez said, ″I know Bernie is a very good person, very religious, that I can tell you.

″She’s got a real strong will. She has a lot of faith in God and I think that’s what’s″ enabling her to continue to regain strength after the multiple operations, she said.

Her children - Larry, or ″L.J.,″ 13, Tammy, 10, and Ernest, 9, - are students at St. Matthews Elementary School and have been with relatives during their mother’s ordeal.

Sister Catherine Riegel, principal of St. Matthews, said Ms. Chayrez’ mother, Tillie, has long been active with the parish and school, ″and Bernadette herself, being a single parent, I think has struggled to keep that family together.″

Since March 1981, Ms. Chayrez has been employed at Motorola Inc.’s Mesa plant, working the midnight shift in final post-production testing of semi- conductor chips, said company spokesman Ken Phillips.

She also baby-sat and did other ″odds and ends″ to try to make ends meet, Holguin said, adding that she nonetheless spent as much time as possible with her children, taking them and as many other youngsters as she could squeeze into her car fishing when she could afford it.

Her interests, he said, include making silk flower bouquets, painting and reading ″as much as possible of the Bible.″

He also recalled she went through a difficult time shortly before Christmas 1984 when burglars took nearly everything of value in her house, including all the presents she had purchased for her children.

But she managed to buy some small presents a day before Christmas so they could still celebrate, he said. Her parents, Tillie and Ernest Chayrez, and extended family are ″very close, very loving,″ with a ″simple, straightforward way of looking at things,″ said Nina Trasoff, a hospital spokeswoman.

That was exemplified in Copeland’s statement Monday that Tillie ″stated very firmly that they believed in the Jarvik heart, that it had gotten her (Bernadette) out of a bad situation once, why wouldn’t it work again?

″And it seemed to me that in that very simple logic perhaps it was the only hope for salvaging this woman.″

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