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Heart transplant recipient raises awareness on organ and tissue donations

Thursday, April 19, 2012 - 7:03 am

Ask Sherrie Francey, 53, why she supports organ and tissue donation, and she has a simple answer: She's got a heart. Literally.

Francey received a heart transplant at Lutheran Hospital, July 2, 2010.

She was not the typical heart transplant recipient. There is no history of heart disease in her family. She was a healthy, trim 52-year-old mother with two boys in their 20s.

Every April Lutheran Hospital's donor council hosts an awareness drive to register organ and tissue donors. Francey was at Lutheran Hospital Tuesday to promote the drive. Also on hand were Indiana Organ Procurement Organization, IOPO, and the Indiana Lion's Eye Tissue and Transplant bank.

Francey believes she needed a new heart because she has worked very hard all her life, and when she first came down with a virus it was around Christmas. There was no time to slow down and take care of herself. So she pushed through her illness until about a week after Christmas, when she couldn't walk up the stairs to her bedroom. She said she remembers thinking “OK, now I'm really sick.”

She drove herself to the Emergency Room and made it through the first set of double doors before collapsing.

“I couldn't breathe,” Francey said.

She was diagnosed with congestive heart failure and after three months her condition didn't improve. Her heart was only working at 10 percent of its normal capacity. She ended up on the donor list and very shortly received a heart from an 11-year-old boy.

Francey received the heart exactly a year after her father died on his birthday, and at exactly the same time in the morning, shortly after 4 a.m. Francey firmly believes her father was watching out for her.

Now, almost two years later, you would never know she was a transplant patient unless she told you.

Cindy Alexander, of IOPO, said people who donate are always sent a little bit of information on the person their loved one has helped. If they want to meet the people both parties must agree to the meeting before it happens. In Francey's case she has never met the family of her donor, but is happy knowing that they know they saved her life through their son's generous donation.

According to a fact sheet from IOPO, over 28 million Hoosiers are registered donors. In 2011, 496 people received organ transplants as a result of 145 organ donors in Indiana. IOPO helped with 673 tissue donations in 2011. In Indiana 48 people are waiting for hearts, 65 are for lungs, 88 for liver, 1,212 for kidney, 56 for a kidney/pancreas and 12 for an intestine. Nationwide the numbers are much higher.