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Transplant patient learns to not let anything stand in the way of her dream

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STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

And it's Friday, which is when we hear from StoryCorps. When Gianna Paniagua was a baby, she was diagnosed with a significant heart defect. She received her first heart transplant when she was 1-year-old. She's now 30 and has spent most of her life in and out of hospitals. Recently, Gianna came to StoryCorps with her mother, Lourdes, to talk about how these experiences shaped her life.

GIANNA PANIAGUA: Since I was 3, I remember wanting to be a doctor. I would always like to watch what was happening, like, watch how a needle goes in.

LOURDES MATAMOROS: Yeah, you had your regular cardiograms and sonograms, and you would take in your Beanie Babies and have them X-rayed because you wanted to see what was inside.

PANIAGUA: But when the doctors told me I couldn't go to medical school, that I didn't have the stamina to do it, I was beyond devastated.

MATAMOROS: You know, I wish that I would have known how devastating it was for you. I would have said, don't give up. But I think my being your mother and being overprotective versus being supportive, it's been a learning process.

PANIAGUA: The overprotective side, we definitely butt heads about it, but I get it. So then fast-forward, like, 10 years. When I learned that I had to get the second heart transplant, I originally had not wanted to get it because I didn't feel like I wanted to go through all of that. It was going to, you know, extend my life. But it just seemed like this mountain that I didn't really want to buy the equipment to climb. But I changed my mind. And with the remaining time, thanks to this recent heart, I'd like to go to medical school.

MATAMOROS: I know that I wasn't as supportive then, but this is your dream. So you have to go. You're very brave, and I think that's what I'm proudest of.

PANIAGUA: Having a transplant does not make you necessarily brave. It's just like I have no other choice. But the biggest thing that I learned is that if you really want to do something, there's always a way to do it. And don't let somebody tell you you can't.

MATAMOROS: Yeah. You just have to honor whatever it is that's in your heart.

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INSKEEP: Lourdes Matamoros and her daughter, Gianna Paniagua. Gianna's finishing her pre-med program at Columbia University. And their StoryCorps conversation will be archived at the Library of Congress. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.