Love of Moffat County soccer keeps heart transplant recipient strong
CRAIG — The Moffat County High School soccer team welcomed back one of its biggest fans during its Homecoming game earlier this month.
It was a game Moffat County mother of three and heart transplant recipient Frances Nielsen feels blessed to have attended.
“Most of the kids on the soccer team, I’ve been there to help coach and watch them,” she said.
Her youngest son, Wyatt, a high school senior, plays on the team.
Through the years, Nielsen has helped her husband, Mark, a former collegiate soccer player and coach, and cheered on the players.
“I would take pictures of every kid. By the time I got home, I would have 600 pictures and put them on Facebook for the kids,” she said.
In 2002 Nielson contracted a virus that killed 90 percent of the left side of her heart. For the next year and a half, she was couch-bound and on oxygen, before having a pacemaker implanted in to help regulate her heartbeat.
Through the past 15 years, she said her hardest times were not the many surgeries or her transplant operation. Instead it was an afternoon when her pacemaker malfunctioned as she was helping her husband coach little league soccer.
“I was shocked out on the field. I took a face plant in the field,” she said. “That hurt me the most, as it happened in front of the kids.
Her heart continued to weaken.
Three pacemakers later, about five years ago, she was fitted with a Left Ventricular Assist Device, or LVAD, to keep her heart beating. She was also placed on the heart transplant list, but weighed too much to receive one. So she underwent bariatric surgery and lost more than 150 pounds.
“I am now number one on the list,” she wrote on her Go Fund Me page.
But, to receive a heart, Nielsen had move to Utah, within an hour’s drive of the hospital, but six hours away from her hometown, her husband and her youngest son.
Ivan Nielsen, her son, moved to Utah when he returned from his Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints mission. His home was the prescribed distance from the hospital, so Nielsen moved in to wait for a heart. Her son, Aaron, who works to help pay the bills, joined her.
On June 7, the call came in. A heart was on its way from Sacramento, California. The surgery took more than 13 hours but was a success. Though she is 49, “June 8, 2018, is my second birthday,” she said.
Her surgery has been followed by almost six months of testing and monitoring for rejection.
“My mom is a perfect example — when all hope is lost, don’t give up,” said Ivan Nielsen.
If her progress continues, doctors expect to be able to release her to return home to Craig in time for Christmas.
“It’s been hard, being away from my husband and son during his senior year,” Nielsen said.
It’s also hard being away from soccer games, so her doctors gave her permission to travel to Craig for Homecoming.
“The way the kids treated her was like she was their soccer mom. It was super heart touching to know she was cared for and missed,” Ivan Nielsen said.
The team gave her the game ball. Now, she says she can’t wait for Christmas and her return to Craig, a town she loves. She’s also looking forward to spending the New Year cheering on the sidelines and being a mom, grandmother and wife again.
“Cherish what you’ve got,” she said. “Life is getting better, and I’ll be here to see my grandkids grow. That’s what matters the most. With God’s help, we will work it all out.”
To read updates and/or assist the Nielsen family with expenses not covered by insurance visit gofundme.com/2z-heart-transplant.
Contact Sasha Nelson at 970-875-1794 or snelson@CraigDailyPress.com.
Moffat County CSU Extension Office is hosting the free “One Seed, One Community” program, which seeks to unite community by encouraging gardeners of all skill levels to plant, grow, cook, and share a featured vegetable every year.