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Cindy Schabow

I am a heart transplant recipient. A virus settled in my heart when I was pregnant with my daughter and caused a condition called cardiomyopathy, a weakening of the heart muscle.

Fortunately, my daughter was born healthy, and I remained stable for several years on medication. But when she was in kindergarten, my heart began quickly failing and doctors told me the only hope was a heart transplant. Heart transplant surgeries were not being performed in Omaha at that time, so I went to Texas Heart Institute in Houston since my parents lived in Texas.

I was put on the transplant waiting list, and my health continued to decline rapidly. Soon every breath became a struggle. Doctors told my family I probably had about 24 hours left to live.

Then came the news, “We found you a heart!” I was simultaneously filled with joy and sadness. Joy that I was going to have the opportunity to live and see my daughter grow up, yet keenly aware that another family had just lost someone they loved.

We now know that my donor was Donnie Ray Smith, Jr. from Louisiana, who died as a result of a swimming accident, and his loving family had agreed to organ donation. His heart has been beating faithfully in my chest for almost 35 years now. I was blessed a few years ago to meet Donnie’s sisters, Meranda and Santana, in person and express my overflowing gratitude for the gift of life.

I have been blessed with nearly 35 years of memories made with my family, friends, fellow transplant families, caring medical professionals, organ procurement teams, church family and others.

I hope my experience encourages those who are waiting for transplants to see what can be possible.