Heart transplant recipient Bobbie Misenheimer of Huntersville is looking forward to 2015 with a new heart full of gratitude and energy to spare.
She’s excited about telling her story and educating others on the importance of lifesaving organ transplants.
“When I was a senior at UNC Charlotte, I began to have shortness of breath and I tired easily, but it never occurred to me that I had heart disease,” said Misenheimer, now 61. “You don’t think about that when you’re 20 years old.”
Her diagnosis was hypertrophic cardiomyopathy, an abnormally thick heart muscle.
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For 15 years she was part of a case study at the National Institutes of Health in Bethesda, Md., where she received cardiac care and her first pacemaker at age 34.
Yet even with a debilitating heart disease, she was able to spend 32 years with the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools, most recently as a literacy consultant at the CMS Central Learning 01Community.
Over the years, she said, she’d had many heart procedures – none successful – and the past few years have been very difficult.
“I was in constant heart failure,” she said. “My organs were shutting down. My hair was starting to fall out. I just wasn’t getting any blood flow to my organs.”
She said her cardiologist, Dr. Ronald Uszenski of Novant Health Heart and Vascular Institute, was instrumental in getting her to Duke University Medical Center.
In February 2014, she and her husband, Steve, traveled to Duke to be evaluated for the heart transplant program.
“I thought I was just there for an evaluation, but at that point I didn’t realize how bad things were. They told me I had two months to live unless I had a heart transplant,” she said. “I was so weak, they had to insert a balloon pump to keep me alive. She said she was officially put on the transplant list on a Saturday and was awakened early the following Monday morning to tell her that the transplant team was enroute to retrieve her new heart.
“We do know my donor was 22 years old and was killed by a drunk driver,” said Misenheimer. “The transplant day was very difficult for my family.”
She and her husband have three grown children, sons Brent and Grey, and daughter Britt. “They were elated at my chance for a new life, but they were heartbroken for that mom and dad who had lost their beautiful daughter.” Misenheimer said that during her time in the hospital, the chaplain came every day and they prayed together for the donor’s family.
“We have written a letter to the donor’s family,” she said. The letter was sent to Duke and Donor Services, and to the donor’s family if they would like to get it. “I hope one day to be able to meet them and to tell them how very, very grateful that we are for this precious gift.
“It was just a miracle. Everything had to fall in place perfectly for this to happen, and I truly believe that God’s hand was in it,” she said.
Following surgery, Misenheimer spent four months in rehab learning to walk, talk and feed herself again. She credits her husband and family for staying by her side every step of the way.
Now fully recovered and with the new year ahead, she says she has the stamina to spend long, fun-filled hours with her two young grandsons and volunteer at Mallard Creek Presbyterian Church, two activities she was missing.
“Now my girlfriends tease me. They say they can’t keep up with me,” she said. “God has blessed me and I want to give back to my community and my church.”
She and her husband are on the waiting list to become volunteer spokesmen for LifeShare of the Carolinas so that they can encourage others to make a commitment to organ donation.
“I really want to go out to churches and share my faith journey and my health journey. The real thing I would like people to do, possibly as a New Year’s resolution, is to seriously consider putting their name on the donor list.
“All you have to do is, when you go to renew your driver’s license, they will put a little heart on your license. To me, it’s absolutely amazing that one person can save the lives of so many people as an organ donor.
“I don’t know how many people my donor saved. I may never know. I do know that without an organ donor, I wouldn’t be alive,” she said.