For most of her life, Donna Jones Baker has inspired the local community through her leadership and advocacy for others. Donna grew up in Paducah, Kentucky, and worked as a nonprofit executive for most of her career.
Donna was recruited from a job in Baltimore, Maryland, for the position of president and CEO of Urban League of Greater Southwestern Ohio, a nonprofit organization that helps eliminate economic and racial discrimination in underserved populations — especially African Americans — around the community. In that role, Donna served as a beacon of hope and change. Multiple Cincinnati mayors have appointed Donna to various committees over the years, including the Child Poverty Collaborative and Complete Count Committee, which helped ensure Cincinnati had a complete person count for the National Census.
Donna’s ability to make a difference took a major detour two and a half years ago, the beginning of a long, strenuous health journey. Despite a lack of history in her family, she would need a new heart and kidney.
A virus attacked Donna’s whole body, including her heart, and put her in a state of physical shock. She was brought to UC Health, where she saw David Feldman, MD, PhD, professor of medicine and pediatrics and clinical director of the Cardiovascular Service Line at the UC Heart, Lung, & Vascular Institute, and Louis Benson Louis IV, MD, chief of Cardiac Surgery at UC Medical Center.
Dr. Feldman and Dr. Louis worked with a multidisciplinary team and decided that Donna would not survive unless she received a left ventricle assist device (LVAD), a mechanical device that helps the heart pump blood. Dr. Louis brought her to the operating room and performed the procedure to implant the LVAD.
The virus had caused a rare cardiovascular disease called giant cell myocarditis, which attacks the heart and is usually fatal without a transplant.
“When you put the LVAD in, you take a sample of the heart muscle and we send it off to pathology to figure out why their heart is failing,” Dr. Louis explained. “And that’s when we discovered the giant cell myocarditis.”
Donna remained at UC Medical Center in hopes of quickly having a heart transplant. But after receiving the LVAD, Dr. Feldman discovered cancer on one of her kidneys. With her combined heart-kidney disease, called cardiorenal syndrome, and the need to have the cancerous kidney removed, she required both a heart and kidney transplant. Donna’s diagnosis was grim.
“All of it was frightening. I was in and out of the hospital from April to October in 2018,” Donna said.