It was the day before New Year's Eve and Amy DeStefano found herself yet again resting in a bed at Massachusetts General Hospital with a weak heart.

It was the day before New Year's Eve and Amy DeStefano found herself yet again resting in a bed at Massachusetts General Hospital with a weak heart.

A few days earlier, DeStefano had passed out at her home as a result of declining health and was forced to go back into the hospital once again.

While the trip to Mass General was nothing new for DeStefano. It would prove to be life changing.

Having fallen ill in 2009 from a virus that attacked and damaged her heart, DeStefano was no stranger to the rigors of treatment and the side effects of having a damaged heart.

Throughout that time, the Portsmouth resident was forced to not only go through treatment, but to also get in line for a heart transplant, a process that involves patiently waiting to move to the top of a donor list.

And it was on this day, Dec. 30, 2011, that DeStefano, 40, a mother of two, finally got the news she had been waiting for more than two years.

It was around 10 a.m. and DeStefano said she remembers her cardiologist entering her room staring at the pager.

"There's a slight chance," DeStefano said she remembers being told, while also being instructed not to eat or drink until doctors found out more.

After informing her family of the possibilities that doctors may have found a donor, DeStefano said she called her boyfriend and then had to wait patiently in her hospital room to hear more.

The news came hours later.

DeStefano said it was around 4 p.m. when the doctor came walking through her door.

"He said he had a heart for me," she said. "I was just beaming."

When it was all said and done, DeStefano had her new heart and at the same time became the first patient in New England to receive the organ through a new, experimental process called "Heart in a Box." Often called a "beating heart transplant," the device is manufactured by Transmedics Inc. of Andover, Mass.

Neal Beswick, vice president of global marketing for Transmedics, said DeStefano is one of about 150 patients from all over the world who have successfully utilized the Heart in a Box transplant method. Beswick said there are many challenges when it comes to transplants in general. Besides a lack of donors, Beswick said, there is also very poor utilization of the donors already identified.

"At the moment only about three out of 10 of heart donors who agree to donate all of the origins are used," he said.

The reason for the many limitations is due to the current cold-storage method of transplants. Beswick said the current standard of keeping organs cold is very time dependent and involves greater risk of a negative outcome.

But, through Heart in a Box, Beswick said, a heart can be taken out of a person's body, along with the donor's blood, and be placed in the device. The heart can remain in the device for hours longer than the current transplant storage method. "We keep the heart warm and its beat close to its natural environment," he said.

The technology is going through a trial period with the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. Massachusetts General happens to be one of the 20 hospitals selected for the trial. Beswick said the trial is on track to be complete by year's end. When, and if, that happens, Beswick said the world of transplants could change forever. "This is truly the holy grail for us, in that if this works out, we could double the number of transplants," he said.

Despite the revolutionary new technology that essentially saved her life, DeStefano said the road to recovery has been daunting. At first the idea of having someone else's heart inside of her was weird, she said. It didn't kick in until DeStefano received an extensive echo cardiogram not long after the operation.

"Normally I don't look at the screen, it freaks me out," she said. "As (my doctor) was reviewing the film, I could see this awesome, strong heart. I could tell right away it wasn't mine."

It was at that point that DeStefano said she realized someone else's heart was now keeping her alive. "It was pretty powerful," she said. "I remember quietly crying."

Since being released from the hospital, DeStefano said she has also endured many medications, each of them with their own side effects. A day of recovery typically involves taking 39 pills, she said.

DeStefano said nurses visit her often to check her vital signs and help her with physical therapy. Some days DeStefano said she has energy, while others she'll be completely exhausted.

Despite the reactions to medication and the rapid changes in her energy level, DeStefano remains optimistic.

"I'm one of those people who always has a smile on my face," she said.

The next step is to take part in cardio rehab, something DeStefano said she is working hard to reach.

With a normal recovery expected to take about a year, DeStefano said she is beginning to set goals for herself. She hopes to return to her job in social work in the fall.

Having ventured out into the community over the last few months, DeStefano said she often cringes when people tell her how the story of her fight for a new heart has made her a local celebrity.

"I'm just a woman who went through something unexpected and had to fight through it," she said. "You've got to fight."

These days, six months after surgery, DeStefano said she doesn't think about the heart not being hers anymore. "I've accepted this heart and I'm so grateful for it," she said.

DeStefano said she does often think about the donor and their family, however. Despite not knowing who the donor is, DeStefano said she plans to write a letter to the donor bank, who will then try to forward it to the donor's family.

Looking back on her ordeal, DeStefano said perhaps the toughest thing she had to endure was saying goodbye to her birth heart.

"People who have had heart transplants grieve their birth heart," she said. "The first thing an expectant parent wants to see is their child's heart beat on the ultrasound. And my birth heart is no longer in me. I remember apologizing to my mother that the heart she gave me couldn't keep me alive and it is going to be removed. I felt so badly about it."