Dr. Simeone signs a heart shaped pillow for Mackey as Dr. Matthew deShazo looks on. Image: UMMC

Special to Find It In Fondren / UMMC Public Affairs

When cardiac patient Sharon Mackey goes home, she’ll take with her at least two mementos from her stay at UMMC, she said: “a warm blanket and a warm heart.”

The bright red blanket, one of a number distributed to cardiac patients to recognize today’s National Wear Red Day, was presented by Dr. Alan Simeone and Dr. Matthew deShazo, two of her physicians.

The heart was a gift from an unnamed donor and the donor’s family.

“They were my guardian angels who watched and waited to give me this new lease on life,” said Mackey, 50, of Port Gibson. “I feel like a million bucks.”

Mackey’s story is one of many that could be told today to raise awareness of heart disease — the purpose of National Wear Red Day.

Although her debilitating heart condition was not a preventable disease (it was probably related to a long-ago pregnancy) Mackey’s example is valuable for at least two reasons: It emphasizes the importance of taking care of your heart, and it illustrates the kind of care that’s available at UMMC when things go wrong.

“Unfortunately, I’m the part of the team that sticks out, but I’m just a little piece of this,” said Simeone, who led the heart-transplant team on Mackey’s case.

“There’s a huge team involved,” he said, naming, among others, heart-failure cardiologists Dr. Charles “Chuck” Moore, Dr. Robert Craig Long and deShazo.

“What they do is actually miraculous. The average cardiologist can’t do this. The patient was saved by what they do.”

At UMMC, the only hospital offering heart transplants in Mississippi, Mackey arrived with end stage, or advanced, heart failure the last week of January. Fortunate to find a donor whose blood type matched Mackey’s, doctors performed the transplant on Jan. 31.

“My doctors were great; they stuck with me all the time,” Mackey said. “And the (donor) family has not just touched my heart; they’ve replaced my heart.”

Six days after surgery, Mackey was sitting up in her hospital bed, describing the change in her life.

Before the operation, she was always fatigued; in the short journey from room to room in her house, she had to stop to take breaks, said Mackey, whose caregiver at home has been her daughter Ronneccia Mackey, 23, a graduate student in public health at Jackson State University.

With a healthy heart now, Mackey said, “there’s a lot I want to do and can do. I’m going to run with the wind.”

She’ll also be able to spend more time with her daughter, she said — not so much as a patient, but as a mom.