Vail Valley woman’s bucket list led with life
Jennifer Ortiz lived through two heart transplants
- Thursday: Viewing open to all from 4-8 p.m. Rosary begins at 6:30 p.m. at Mount Olivet Parish & Cemetery, 12801 W. 44th Avenue Wheat Ridge, Colorado 80033
- Friday: Funeral mass will begin at 11 a.m. followed by a reception (TBD) at Immaculate Heart of Mary Catholic Parish, 11385 Grant Dr., Northglenn, Colorado 80233.
- For more information go to Catholic Funeral and Cemetery Services.
Jennifer Ortiz never stopped living, even after her heart stopped beating.
She had two heart transplants in her 24 years, which makes her a miracle.
“She has been an inspiration to us all,” said her father, Danny Ortiz.
Jennifer Ortiz grew up in the Vail Valley, graduated Battle Mountain High School and volunteered at Roundup River Ranch, a camp for kids with life-threatening illnesses, like hers.
She was OK for a while after her second heart transplant. She had no issues for months. Then her transplanted heart started to fail and she lapsed into a coma. Machines kept her alive.
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“We had to make a choice,” Danny Ortiz said.
The family chose a pair of ventricular assistance devices known as BiVADs. BiVADs are an implantable pump designed to help the heart function better when both sides of the heart are failing. Jennifer Ortiz carried two, one for her heart’s left and right ventricles. Look at the pictures that go with this story and you can see them, black bags she carried over her shoulders.
Jennifer’s bucket list
Jennifer Ortiz was not eligible for a third heart transplant, so she put together Jenn’s Bucket List to pack as much as she could into the time she had left — London, Paris, Amsterdam, New Orleans, a Dallas Cowboys football game. She met the Jonas Brothers. She went backstage to meet singer-songwriter-rapper Lizzo, who did a special performance for her.
“She got to live, especially the borrowed time she was on,” Danny Ortiz said.
The People magazine writer’s dad is a cardiologist, and she asked her father if anyone could do anything to help Jennifer.
“Yes,” the writer’s dad replied, according to Danny Ortiz.
Jennifer traveled to New York City to see the doctor, where someone of means set her up with a condo and a personal driver. A personal assistant set up all sorts of Big Apple adventures. Most importantly, though, she met a doctor who wanted to put her on a transplant list.
“Without that kind of publicity that would not have happened,” Danny Ortiz said.
Jennifer Ortiz decided she wanted to spend Thanksgiving, then Christmas with her family, something she had often been too sick to do. That led to their traditional family vacation. Then she’d go to New York City to prepare for a third transplant.
An episode last Saturday put her in the intensive care unit. In the end, liver failure got her.
“Her body wasn’t strong enough to fight it off,” Danny Ortiz said.
Jennifer Ortiz is the oldest of nine brothers and sisters. She was surrounded by them, her father, her mom and step-mom. She spent a few minutes with each of them and several friends, then peacefully slipped away.
“She took her last breath and left us,” Danny Ortiz said.
Smiling while others cried
In almost every picture, Ortiz is smiling. She smiled through her first heart transplant here in Colorado when she was just 12. She smiled through her second heart transplant in Los Angeles. A viral infection destroyed the heart she was born with.
In the nine years she carried her second heart it was never at home. Her body tried repeatedly to reject it. Doctors gave her all the medications they could, and that helped, but her choices were not complicated: Get a heart transplant or die. She decided that, given those options, she’d like to live — thank you very much.
Her kidneys were failing because her heart could not provide enough oxygenated blood. She would need a combination heart-kidney transplant, something her Colorado doctors don’t have much experience with, but something her California doctors do all the time.
She bounced straight to the top of California’s transplant list, and four days later, she had her new heart.
In between her first and second heart transplants, she lived the life of a Vail Valley kid, going to school, attending college, volunteering at Roundup River Ranch and helping the people around her smile.
“She taught me so much about bravery. She’s amazing. She’s definitely my hero,” Danny Ortiz said.