Heart recipient continues to inspire, thrive in career born from her own experience


Mackenzie Tannhauser documented organ transplant journey online. Now, 11 years later, she explains how it lead her to a career in health care

WGN’s Medical Watch first met Mackenzie Tannhauser in 2011. She had spent weeks in the hospital waiting for a new heart. At just 17 years old, she passed the time by documenting her journey.

Now, an update 11 years in the making – and a rare chance to see a transplant patient thriving in a career born from her own medical experience.

In 2011, long before Tik Tok and Instagram exploded, Tannhauser was a high school senior and took up video blogging as she waited for an organ transplant.

“One of the motivations for making the videos during my treatment was to inform younger patients and other families about what it’s like to be on the waiting list and go to all the procedures that are required for an organ transplant,” she said.

She suffered with dilated cardiomyopathy, an enlarged heart that was no longer pumping properly. In September 2011, she posted regular updates during her hospital stay – including the moment she heard the news.

WGN Medical Watch team’s visited Tannhauser just days after her transplant.

The experience helped launch her career — not in blogging, but in biomedical engineering.

“I wanted to be able to help people and I wanted to use my experience as a patient to improve the lives of others,” she said. “After the suggestion from one of my electrophysiologist heart docs to look into biomedical engineering, that’s what I ended up studying in college.”

The now healthy 28-year-old is a clinical field specialist at Abbott, a global healthcare company.

“I get to work on our clinical trials in our cardiovascular unit, which means I get to help patients around the country in our latest breaking technology to enroll them in clinical trials,” she said. “So I help train physicians and I support surgeries and follow up with patients to see how they are doing. … We work on anything from stents that open up blockages to the vessels, to stents that open up blockages in the legs that are preventing people from needing amputations.”

More on organ donation:
United Network For Organ Sharing

The vascular division where she works is loaded with female scientists, many inspired by STEM classes in high school and college. Now Tannhauser wants to inspire others with her story.

“I’ve been really fortunate that with this transplant I’ve been able to go on and live as full of a life that I can,” she said. “I hope that I can use my story to show the impact that engineering and biomedical engineering has on patients like myself so I can motivate other young women to give the career a try.”

Sept. 7 marks the 11-year-anniversary of when Tannhauser received the ultimate gift of life.

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