By Sarah Kuper
On New Year’s Day in 1995, the physicians and support team at UAB brought life back to Jeanne Fowler’s weak and sick heart. But little did they know how instrumental they would be in forging her future – both professionally and romantically.
Fowler was diagnosed with a heart condition called dilated cardiomyopathy when she was just 18 months old. Doctors believed it was caused by an infection and they were hopeful she would outgrow it by the time she was 8 years old.
The opposite proved to be true.
“Instead it got worse. It was a slow decline over a few years … . I didn’t have as much energy as my friends and the medicine wasn’t working as well,” Fowler said.
The Fowler family lived in Savannah, Tennessee, and Jeanne was under the care of doctors there when the subject of a heart transplant first arose. She was 11 years old.
Fowler’s uncle, a physician, started asking around about where Jeanne could go to get the best second opinion.
The answer was the cardiologists at the University of Alabama at Birmingham Hospital.
Dr. Robert Bourge initially instructed Fowler to continue on medication, but eventually the necessity of a transplant became evident.
By Christmas of 1994, Fowler could hardly walk and, as an 11-year-old, was down to 57 pounds. She was in heart failure.
Fowler was quickly added to the donor list and, in less than 12 hours, a heart from South Carolina was on its way to Fowler. It was New Year’s Eve.
The next day, Fowler had a successful heart transplant.
After months of recovery, Fowler was able to finish middle and high school and go on to graduate from Middle Tennessee State University with a degree in psychology.
But it was the memory of a life-saving experience that led Fowler back to Birmingham to work with the very doctors who saved her life.
Fowler took a position working in Bourge’s office and later became education manager at the Kirklin Institute for Research in Surgical Outcomes, working with the same surgeon who performed her heart transplant, Dr. James Kirklin.
But, it wasn’t just the cardiologists and surgeons Fowler was eager to reconnect with after college.
“Jane (Love) worked in the Child Life Program at UAB. We met before the transplant and she took us under her wing,” Fowler said, “She took my mom grocery shopping and showed her where to go and get a haircut. She would bring games for me to play with.”
Fowler said Love, child life coordinator at UAB, had a tangible passion for helping sick children and their parents who felt lost and overwhelmed.
That’s why, after losing touch for years after her heart transplant, Fowler connected with Love looking for ways to get involved.
What she found was a fulfilling opportunity to volunteer, a broader relationship with the transplant community, and a romance with Love’s son Jared.
“She (Love) brought me to transplant camp as a counselor and Jared was there,” Fowler said, “I had seen him at the transplant picnic in April and I was hoping he would be at camp.”
Fowler said both she and Jared Love are shy by nature, so it took months of texting and emailing before the two were a couple.
After meeting Jared Love in the summer of 2008, Fowler said “yes” to changing her last name to Love in March 2011.
“I wanted it to be quicker. I think we knew within the first six months, but Jared was a little slow,” Fowler joked.
After Fowler became Love by marriage, next, as the rhyme goes, was the baby carriage.
Jeanne and Jared Love adopted their son, Tucker, when he was just a few days old.
“I don’t know what we would do without Tucker,” Fowler said.
The couple is in the process of adopting again.
When Fowler isn’t working or spending time with her family, she volunteers herself as a resource for children and parents who are feeling many of the same emotions she felt all those years ago.
“Jane lets me know if there are families who would benefit from meeting me and asking me questions,” she said, “It is really for the parents to see me and see that I’m doing well as someone who has been through it.”
Fowler said she remembers her own mother seeking reassurance from other children who had had successful transplants.
“Sometimes it is just for parents to see me, not necessarily to even ask questions. It is just to give families hope,” Fowler said.
Being the embodiment of a successful transplant is just one way Fowler serves the transplant community.
At this year’s American Heart Association Heart Ball, Fowler will be honored and will have a chance to share her story.
She said she is thankful for the opportunity to highlight the strides UAB has made in the cardiology field and the ongoing research funded in part by the American Heart Association.
Party With a Purpose at This Year’s Birmingham Heart Ball
The American Heart Association’s 31st Annual Birmingham Heart Ball will be March 3 at Barber Motorsports Museum.
This year’s fundraising goal for the ball is $2 million. Funds raised through the event go to local research, advocacy and community education efforts to fight cardiovascular diseases and stroke. Since its inception, the ball has raised more than $16 million for the cause.
Raymond and Kathryn Harbert are this year’s ball honorees.
Raymond Harbert, chairman and chief executive officer of Harbert Management Corp., an alternative asset investment management firm, has served in leadership roles for many professional and civic organizations in the area and was inducted into the Alabama Academy of Honor in 2015.
Kathryn Harbert also has been involved in many community organizations, including the YWCA Central Alabama, the Community Foundation of Greater Birmingham and Red Mountain Theatre Company.
“All of us have had friends and family affected by heart disease and other cardiovascular conditions,” said Kathryn Harbert. “The American Heart Association is dedicated to saving people from the leading cause of death in the U.S. For that reason, we are honored to serve as the 2018 Birmingham Heart Ball honorees.”
In addition to raising money, Birmingham’s Heart Ball brings attention to the impact the national association has on the research and treatment of cardiovascular diseases and stroke, which are the first- and third-leading killers of Alabamians, respectively. It also brings attention to the efforts by local officials and volunteers to carry out the association’s mission to help people build healthier lives.
Wells Fargo is the signature sponsor for the ball. Media sponsors are the Over the Mountain Journal, ABC 33/40 and Shelby County Newspapers.
For more information and tickets, search Facebook for 2017-2018 Birmingham Heart Ball.