By LINDA COMINS
For The Times Leader
Terry Greer, 65, of Martins Ferry once told an acquaintance, "I'm young at heart."
Photo courtesy/ Linda Comins
Terry Greer, 65, and his wife, Cathy, of Martins Ferry celebrate the fifth anniversary of his heart transplant surgery with a “heart birthday” party Monday, May 19. Displayed behind them is a banner from his one-year heart anniversary; guests added new greetings during this week’s festivities.
Greer noted the irony of that statement as he celebrated his five-year "heart birthday" Monday, May 19, the fifth anniversary of his heart transplant surgery. He and his wife, Cathy, held a party for family and friends at the Alert Fire Company in Martins Ferry to mark the milestone and to encourage people to become organ donors. The couple wore T-shirts with the message, "God gave us our miracle. May 19, 2009," written on the back.
Literature about the Ohio Donor Registry and "Donate Life" bracelets, pins, bookmarks, pens and decals were offered. In addition, Jody Miller of Wheeling distributed information about the local chapter of Mothers Against Drunk Driving; Miller's daughter, Heather, was an organ donor and Miller began promoting the Center for Organ Recovery and Education within a year after her daughter's death.
Cathy Greer said they wanted to emphasize "how important it is to be a donor. Without it, I wouldn't have a husband. You just have to be a donor. You can save a life."
Terry Greer's first heart attack occurred when he was 43; he was flown by medical helicopter to Pittsburgh and underwent bypass surgery. Ten years later, he had triple bypass surgery after another heart attack. He had to retire from his employment as a sheet metal worker; the 35-year volunteer firefighter also had to stop riding on fire trucks.
Despite the surgical procedures, his condition deteriorated over time. Six and one-half years ago, the struggles with his heart reached a critical point, his wife recalled.
After a year of traveling back and forth to doctors' appointments, Terry Greer learned that he needed a heart transplant. It took five weeks for him to be evaluated for a transplant; he was on the transplant list for another five weeks. Cathy Greer said her husband was moved up on the list after getting a peripherally inserted central catheter (PICC line) to his heart.
"It's really hard to explain" one's thoughts upon being told that a transplant is necessary, he said. "It's something really unexpected."
The heart transplant was performed at Allegheny General Hospital in Pittsburgh on May 19, 2009. "I got through it. It wasn't easy," he said.
After receiving a new heart at age 60, Terry Greer said, "The first two years were bad. But now it's a good life. The doctor said, 'Go enjoy yourself.' I've been doing it ever since. I do pretty much whatever I want."
Before receiving the transplant, walking a short distance was a huge challenge, he said, adding that now "I go to exercise and keep going ... I fool a lot of people; they don't know I had a heart transplant."
The Greers never met the donor's family, but were told that the heart came from a young man who had been in an accident. The victim had not signed a donor card, but his mother made the decision to donate his organs.
"The Good Lord said 'go do this,' and she listened," Cathy Greer said. "I've never met the mother. He wasn't a donor, but the mother made him one. We can do that (decide to donate a loved one's organs). My husband's alive because of it."
Terry Greer said "people don't understand" the importance of being an organ donor, but he added, "I'm living proof. He (the donor) saved a lot of people. If we could get the word out then for people to become organ donors, that would be good."
Miller said her daughter's heart, liver and kidneys were harvested, saving four lives. In addition, donation of her tissue and bones "can enhance up to 50 lives," Miller said. One of the kidney recipients, a woman from San Diego, attended an annual golf tournament that the Miller family holds in Heather's memory.
After the accident that claimed her daughter's life, Miller said, "All we knew was the heartache and the doom and the gloom." But becoming involved with CORE to promote organ donation has brought light back to their lives, she said.
"Every year, a group of transplant recipients golf in the golf tournament," Miller said. "Meeting them is the positive end of it ... to see what she (Heather) has done. She's given life to people. In a roundabout way, she's still giving life to people."
Miller, who organized the MADD chapter about two years ago, said that serving as CORE volunteers offered her family an opportunity "to turn it around and see some light. I don't know where we'd be without the organ donation."