Asia Werner stands outside her home in West Chester Township Wednesday, April 1, 2020. Werner is a student at University of Cincinnati’s College of Nursing but is now taking online classes at home due to the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic. She had a heart transplant when she was one and she has an immune disorder called CVID (Combined Immune Deficiency Syndrome) that makes her highly susceptible to infection. Asia would normally be staying in a dorm on the University of Cincinnati campus but the threat of coronavirus has forced her to stay at home to avoid contact with others. She has placed stuffed animals in the front windows to bring a smile to faces of those who may pass by. NICK GRAHAM / STAFF

She had a heart transplant at 1. Now, this West Chester woman stays home in fear

Unless she reveals them, she looks like a typical 20-year-old sophomore at the University of Cincinnati.

But when Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine recommended Ohioans remain at home to reduce the risk of spreading the coronavirus, Asia Werner was given a stiffer, more serious sentence. She became a prisoner in her grandparents’ West Chester home. With every step outside, every time she comes in close contact with someone, she increases her chances of getting the potentially deadly COVID-19.

Asia Naomi Maria Werner has cheated death enough already.

The 2018 Lakota West High School graduate had a heart transplant when she was 1 that requires her to take medications to suppress her immune system. She also has been diagnosed with common variable immune deficiency (CVID), a disorder that impairs the immune system and makes it easier for her to get sick.

To reduce those chances, she normally gives herself an antibody infusion every week, but doctors have told her the infusions are useless against the COVID-19.

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If she must play Russian Roulette versus the virus she wants to hold an empty gun. So she mostly stays indoors. Her “most exciting” outside activity is walking through a cemetery off Cincinnati Dayton Road and reading the headstones of people who were living during the Spanish flu of 1918, one of the deadliest pandemics in history.

She has been homebound from nursing school since the beginning of March. Her social life consists of talking to her grandparents, who are her legal guardians, and communicating with friends and UC classmates on video chats.

“Life was perfect a few months ago,” Werner said. “In an instant I went from being independent and loving life to absolutely stir crazy and lonely.”

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Then Werner remembers her medical journey. Coronavirus doesn’t seem like such an inconvenience.

Her biological mother, 18 at the time, gave birth on Dec. 22, 1999 at Good Samaritan Hospital in Cincinnati. Asia was nine weeks premature with multiple heart defects. She spent nearly half of her first year in Good Samaritan and Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center undergoing multiple surgeries.

At 9 months old and out of surgical options she was placed on a heart transplant list, and by her first birthday, her life expectancy was being measured in hours, said her grandmother, Dawn Werner, 61.

Werner remembers looking at Asia lying in the Intensive Care Unit and thinking she was near death. The nurses asked her to leave the room so they could remove one of the Werner’s tubes. She walked down the hall to the waiting room.

A few minutes passed and one of Werner’s doctors arrived.

“What’s the matter?” she asked fearing the worst.

“Could you come out here?” the doctor said.

Three nurses were there.

“She has a heart?” her grandmother asked.

“Yes,” one nurse said. “She has a heart.”

A 7-month-old boy in Iowa had died and he was an organ donor. Now, 19 years later, the family believes the boy “still watches over” Werner.

The heart transplant began that night, Werner’s first birthday, and ended the next morning. Every year she celebrates her birthday on Dec. 22, then marks the anniversary of “heart day” on Dec. 23. Then, two days later, it’s Christmas.

“Lots to celebrate,” Asia Werner said.

The transplant has given Werner the opportunity to graduate from high school, then pursue her lifetime ambition, earning her degree from the UC College of Nursing.

“Her life has been a testament to what organ donation can do,” her grandmother said.

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There have been other health struggles. She has had a few cases of pneumonia and nearly died in 2015 when she got sick on a cruise ship. She flew home and by the time she was hospitalized, her temperature reached 105 degrees. She could feel the heat “radiating” off her body, she said.

“That almost killed me,” said Werner, who was hospitalized for two weeks. “That was bad. That was not fun.”

During her senior year at Lakota West, Werner was accepted into UC’s College of Nursing, a prestigious program.

Two years later, her grandmother said Werner is “knocking it out of the ballpark because she loves what she’s doing.”

Werner described her sophomore year as “magical” because of the clinicals.

“It’s a whole different world,” she said. “Every day is something different. It was a dream come true just like I pictured my life being.”

Then the coronavirus arrived. Now that picture is cloudy.

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