For Margaret Johnson, a second chance at life brought a slew of mixed emotions.
“I was nervous, scared, but also excited,” recalls Margaret, now a client at St. John’s Skalny Day Break Adult Day Program. It was October 25, 2012, and she had just received word that she would be receiving a new heart. Fortunately for Margaret, her transplant surgery would happen almost immediately, leaving very little time to dwell on those emotions.
Prior to her transplant, Margaret had struggled with significant health issues for years. A family history of diabetes and congestive heart failure led to several coronary episodes. It was not until a severe heart attack at the end of 2011 that she knew just how serious things had gotten. Her doctors discovered that two of her valves were not closing, resulting in a heart murmur. She was soon put on the transplant list for a new heart, and would wait several months until a match was made.
Once a match was made, Margaret endured an 18-hour transplant surgery. She spent several weeks in the hospital recuperating, many of them resting on a wooden board in place of a hospital bed. “The pain stayed for a good month or so,” Margaret said. In particular, she remembers how painful each cough or sneeze was on the incision. The hospital staff instructed her to “hug herself” to help deal with that intense pain.
As she looks back on this life-saving operation over three years ago, one word can be used to describe Margaret’s feelings about that faithful day. “I’m grateful” says Margaret, now 73 years old. While she was forced to retire from her career as a hair stylist, she knows she can continue being helpful to people in many different ways. “I got another chance. I testified at church that god gave me a new heart, and I’m going to use it.”
There are strict privacy rules in place that prevent transplant recipients from knowing the identity of their donors. However, if Margaret could speak to the family of the person whose heart has kept her alive, she would let them know she is doing her best to make these extra years count. “I’d just want to thank them and let them know that I’m doing what god wanted me to do with the heart. They gave me a token of love!”
Margaret also has a message for those who are considering becoming an organ donor. While she herself cannot donate any of her other organs following her own transplant, she encourages family and friends to do so in her place. “Have a donor card in your purse or somewhere with your information. This can help someone else who might need it.”