If you remember reading about kidney transplant recipient Ken Sutha and his participation in the U.S. Transplant Games, you might also remember reading about Sherrell Gay, who received her heart at the Emory Heart Transplant Center and also participated in the games. In fact, Sherrell celebrated the 8-year anniversary of her transplant procedure during the Games’ closing ceremonies.
Although Sherrell (who’s originally from Waynesboro, GA) received her first heart transplant a decade ago, for the past 18 months, she has been on the waiting list for another heart due to allograph vasculopathy, a fairly common long-term complication from heart transplant. Allograph vasculoplasty is known more commonly as chronic rejection, which can develop in transplanted hearts at any time – soon after transplant or many years later. The small vessels in the heart become blocked first and as the disease progresses, the larger vessels can become blocked too. “I was diagnosed with allograph vasculpathy at my 7 year annual post-transplant appointment,” Sherrell recalls. “I was treated with medication for 1 ½ years and then the team decided the disease had progressed too far to benefit from drug therapy and I needed to be evaluated for another heart transplant.”
Both throughout her first heart transplant journey and while Sherrell was hospitalized for a portion of 2012, her kidney function continued to decline. “As my wait time continued, my kidney failure worsened, as did my heart function,” Sherrell recalls. Emory’s kidney transplant team was asked to consult on her case, and they concluded that after Sherrell had spent 10 years on immunosuppressants and her kidney function was in decline for almost a decade, her kidneys were in end stage kidney failure. They added Sherrell to the kidney transplant waiting list, knowing that the other option was a potential lifetime on dialysis following her next heart transplant.
Thankfully, Sherrell was contacted about her waiting list status and learned she would be receiving her new heart and two kidneys from the same organ donor. “On the day I got the call there were organs matched for me, I had to start emergency continual dialysis. The organs became available at just the right time,” she says, and “by doing both organs from the same donor, I stood a better chance at successfully living healthy.”
On December 9, 2012, Sherrell received her successful double organ transplant and is now recovering and doing well. Dr. Duc Nguyen performed her heart transplant first, and Dr. Paul Tso performed her kidney transplant immediately after.
While Gay spent much of 2012 at Emory, this mother of two daughters and one son never missed a chance to help cheer up and educate other candidates and recipients and families about the transplant process from her bedside, except, of course, when she was most sick. (At the worst point, she suffered two heart attacks and was placed on emergency peritoneal dialysis.) If such a thing were awarded, Gay would win the Oscar for the Best Advocate Ever for Organ Transplantation.
“I am extremely grateful for my donor family who made the decision to make that donation of life — we got the best gift that day,” says Gay, who also helps lead the Georgia Transplant Foundation Mentor Project.
We are very glad to hear about Sherrell’s remarkable recovery and send her best wishes on her continued recovery and on the upcoming arrival of her first grandbaby. Thanks to her double organ transplant, Sherrell is now well enough to be by her daughter Tracy’s side when she gives birth at the end of March.
The gift of life just in time to witness the gift of a new life; now that is a transplant miracle.