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You gave me your heart so I could live my dreams

Sherry Johnson, with hair pulled back right, sits on her bed in her hospital room while she waits for a second heart and kidney transplant. Her forearm is facing the camera so we can see her tattoo, representing her original heart and her first transplanted heart.

Sherry Johnson shares her experiences as a heart transplant patient who waits again

Sherry Johnson was so exhausted she couldn’t walk her two little boys to the bus stop. Brushing her teeth wiped her out. Cardiomyopathy, diagnosed four years earlier, was taking its toll and only a heart transplant would save her life.  

It was 2006.  

The Farmington wife and mom was just 34 when she was admitted to Michigan Medicine to wait for a new heart. Three days later, Sherry was awakened by her nurse with the news that a donor’s heart was a match for her. Sherry later learned the name of her donor — Sue — and met her family.  

This year, on Aug. 8, Sherry was admitted to Michigan Medicine to wait a second time, for a second heart and kidney transplant.  

This is a letter Sherry wrote to Sue after learning she needed another donor’s heart.    

My letter to Sue

We met 17 years ago under the most unusual circumstances — it was the day you died, and my life was renewed.

I was so sick and wanted so desperately to see my two little boys grow up.

You’ve given me and my family that life every day since, and I’ve never once had to worry that your gift would fail me. It provided warmth immediately, a familiar feeling but one I had not experienced for some time. From that very moment, lying in the hospital bed, on a ventilator, and a bit overheated, I knew life was going to be great!

Thank you, Sue, for giving me your heart so that I could live my dreams.

I want you to know that because of you, I was able to be here for the most important years of my life — to watch my boys become men, which is all I asked for.

Now they are 23 and 20, and I can say I am living my dream.

I was able to witness all their special moments: T-ball, cross country, catching fish, sitting around the campfire, dumb dad jokes and real, belly-hurting laughter.

I am living my dream.

I was able to see Lake Michigan and her beautiful sunsets and walk her lakeshore scouting for Petoskey stones with our oldest son, Nick.

I kayaked the local rivers, shopped the local stores, and had our dog Benson, who went everywhere with us.

I am living my dream.

I ran a few half-marathons, won gold medals at the Transplant Games and was part of a Guinness World Record for the most heart recipients together in one place.

I put up Christmas trees, celebrated birthdays and sat around Thanksgiving tables.

I am living my dream.

I waited at the finish line as our youngest son, Hayden, ran his first half-marathon in an incredible time, and I continue to encourage him to embrace the “Go Blue” spirit.

I witnessed Nick’s strength and determination. If he wants to do it, he WILL.

I have received the love, organizational skills, lists and humor of my husband, Tim. He has always been there to make sure I am taken care of and to give me whatever I wanted.

Sue, you gave me your heart so that I could live my dreams.

Smiling woman at a restaurant table with a spoon and a giant banana split

I saw this great picture of you once sitting in front of a banana split, your smile big and beautiful. I really love that picture. Now we move on, and you are able to rest. You did your job beautifully, and you will always be a part of me.

You are now the little red heart tattooed on my wrist right next to another of my first, sick heart. As I return now to the waiting list, we must make room for another donor’s heart and begin another big dream that includes weddings and grandbabies, more Thanksgiving gatherings, more birthdays and life with family and friends.

I am forever grateful, Sue, for the 17 beautiful years of life you gave me.

Postscript: Sherry Johnson received her new donor’s heart and kidney in late October. You can read about her journey on Gift of Life’s website at golm.org/sherry.  

Sherry Johnson is wheelchaired out the front doors of Michigan Medicine with her arms raised up in triumph and excitement after her heart and kidney transplant.

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