Heart Transplant Recipient Receives the Gift of Life Twice—20 Years and One Day Apart

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Beverly Uhlmansiek received the gift of life a second time, 20 years and a day after her first heart transplant surgery. As National Donate Life Month comes to a close, the Florissant, Mo., resident is encouraging others to become organ donors.

Signing your donor card or license is when you can decide to give a gift. Because that’s what it is—a gift. How many chances will you have to be a hero?

Beverly Uhlmansiek got the call she had been waiting for on January 23. She was getting a new heart. But this wasn’t the first time she was going to undergo a transplant at the Washington University and Barnes-Jewish Transplant Center.

In fact, Uhlmansiek went through the exact same experience—exactly 20 years earlier.

“We couldn’t believe it,” she says.

20 years ago, she was a mom to two young girls—nine-year-old Sara and five-year-old Katie—was rarely sick and always on the go. But 10 days after the birth of her third daughter, Ellie, Uhlmansiek found herself admitted to Christian Hospital. It was August 1992.

She was eventually diagnosed with postpartum cardiomyopathy, or pregnancy-associated heart failure. She spent three weeks in the hospital, and she says physicians told her she had a 50-50 shot at getting better on her own.

“But that didn’t happen. Instead, my health continued to deteriorate, and I was placed on the heart transplant list in early November,” says Uhlmansiek. “Then, I got a fever the day before Thanksgiving and had to return to the hospital to stay until I received a new heart. It was all extremely difficult with three little kids. But my husband, Kevin, was amazing, and we had lots of help from our family.”

On January 22, 1993, Uhlmansiek received her first life-changing gift and her heart transplant surgery was finished the following day. She was able to return home the day before Valentine’s Day. Mom was back, but she says there were a few changes.

“I loved on my girls as much as possible during the summer, but we adopted a ‘hands-length’ policy when they were in school because it was so easy for me to potentially get sick,” says Uhlmansiek. “We also had the ‘Mom Zone,’ where they couldn’t do things like go near my bed, or put their heads on my pillow—things like that.”

Uhlmansiek also started swimming again, something she had done in high school. After her transplant, she enjoyed the sport so much that she decided to participate in the U.S. Transplant Games, at the time hosted by the National Kidney Foundation. She swam several events in the ’98, 2000, 2006, 2008 and 2010 games and took home 13 medals as part of Team Transplant St. Louis.

“I really like the Transplant Games because donor families come, too,” says Uhlmansiek. “It helped give me the connection I needed. I wrote my donor family, but never heard back.”

It was while she was training for the 2012 Transplant Games of America, which took the place of the U.S. Transplant Games, that she found out something was wrong with her heart. She was diagnosed with a condition that typically affects people much sooner after a heart transplant—not nearly 20 years after the fact.

“I didn’t feel anything. I was in the pool a lot, pushing pretty hard,” says Uhlmansiek. “Looking back, the only clue is that I was sweating a lot, which was a sign. But I thought it was menopause.”

Between April 2011 and January 2013, Uhlmansiek had 14 stents placed to keep her heart going.

That brings us to January 23, 2013. And the call that offered her a second life-saving gift.

Transplant surgeons started Uhlmansiek’s heart transplant 20 years to the day of her first transplant, but the surgery was actually completed the next day. So her transplant anniversary dates are exactly 20 years and one day apart.

But that’s not the only coincidence.

“I received the call about the same day my three-month-old grandson was released from Children’s Hospital because of respiratory syncytial virus (RSV),” says Uhlmansiek. “The whole time I was thinking, ‘God is sending me messages.’”

After her second heart transplant, Uhlmansiek is doing well and is even back in the pool. She’s also reflecting on what it means to have received the gift of life—twice—which takes on special meaning for her during National Donate Life Month.

She’s a scrapbooker, and she has already made her second donor family a card.

“I wake up every day and include them on my prayer list. There aren’t enough thank-yous,” she says. “The best I can do is be a good steward of my life and live it to the fullest to honor my donor and their family.”

And she’s a strong advocate for organ donation.

“Signing your donor card or license is when you can decide to give a gift. Because that’s what it is—a gift. How many chances will you have to be a hero?”

Through it all, Uhlmansiek has kept a positive attitude and says faith and humor have been key for her family to get through everything—together.

“Although we never wanted to go through all this, especially for the second time, it’s made us all better people. Without adversity you don’t realize how much you have to be thankful for. Being grateful for each and every day is something we should all do!”


Barnes-Jewish Hospital is a 1,315 bed teaching hospital affiliated with Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis, Mo. The hospital has a 1,763 member medical staff, with many recognized as "Best Doctors in America." Barnes-Jewish is a member of BJC HealthCare, which provides a full range of health care services through its 13 hospitals and more than 100 health care sites in Missouri and Illinois. Barnes-Jewish Hospital is also consistently ranked as one of America’s “Best Hospitals” by U.S. News & World Report.

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Anne Bassett
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