Martina and Bill Hooley stand at the beach at Old Orchard Beach on Thursday. LIZ GOTTHELF/Journal Tribune

Martina and Bill Hooley stand at the beach at Old Orchard Beach on Thursday. LIZ GOTTHELF/Journal Tribune

OLD ORCHARD BEACH — A chance to sit on the beach on a nice summer day is, for most people, a treat, but for Martina Hooley, it is truly a gift.

Hooley, of Hooksett, New Hampshire, came to town with her husband, Bill, Thursday, to climb up the path through the dunes at Atlantic Avenue and sit on the beach. It’s an annual pilgrimage for the couple, and it’s important to them for a couple of reasons.

First off, Old Orchard Beach has been a vacation destination for Martina Hooley’s family for generations, and coming to the beach reminds her of summer vacations with her family.

Secondly, it’s an accomplishment that she can even walk up the beach, as there was a time when she couldn’t.

Martina Hooley, now in her mid 60s, had a massive heart attack when she was 42. Heart disease runs in both sides of her family, but still, it was a shock to experience an attack at such a young age.

Her health at times after the heart attack was fragile, but hope came with a left ventricular assist device, or LVAD. With the help of the LVAD, she was able to accomplish a dream of hers in 2011, climbing up the dune on Atlantic Avenue, something that had been impossible on a previous trip up to Old Orchard Beach.

However, her health later took a turn for the worse, and at one point was in a grim state. Her husband, who was at her side through the whole journey, recalled a month-long period where she had internal bleeding and hemorrhaging every other day.

“It will make a Navy Seal cry,” said Bill Hooley.

It came to the point where Martina Hooley needed a transplant in order to live, but she was told that a heart transplant was near impossible. She had received about 60 units of blood through transfusions, and with each unit she received someone else’s antibodies, and the chance of getting a compatible heart was remote.

“I went home to die,” said Martina Hooley. “I just had it with medical equipment keeping me alive.”

Two days later, the phone rang. It was the chief surgeon himself, who said, “We have a heart if you’re still interested.”

She was, and had the transplant in 2014 at Tufts Medical Center in Boston. 

There have been some struggles, but Martina Hooley has held strong. Thursday after she climbed up the hill to the beach she sat down to enjoy the sea breeze and listen and watch the waves roll in, grateful for the opportunity.

Martina Hooley is grateful for the transplant and urges people to register to become an organ donor. By donating their organs after they die, a person could save someone else’s life.

According to the U.S Department of Health and Human Services, about 95 percent of adults in the United States support organ donation, but only 54 percent are signed up to become donors. 

Martina Hooley isn’t the only person grateful for the second chance at life. Her devoted husband is as well. Bill Hooley credits the staff at Catholic Medical Center in Manchester, New Hampshire, for the outstanding care Martina has had over the years.

“If it wasn’t for Catholic Medical Center, there’d be no Martina,” said Bill Hooley.

— Staff Writer Liz Gotthelf can be contacted at 282-1535, ext. 325 or [email protected]

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