“I enjoy life because I got a second chance,” she said. “I’m going to enjoy it until they put me under”
Friday was the 20th anniversary of Perry’s May 23, 1994, heart transplant at the Cleveland Clinic. The donor was a 16-year-old boy who had been shot; Perry never learned anything else about the circumstances. Perry, who is energetic and currently has two parttime jobs, said she has done other things to give herself a lease on life. She was once an alcoholic but quit drinking. She was a heavy smoker and quit that, too.
But her biggest challenge was overcoming the heart disease that runs in her family.
Her father died of heart disease when he was young.
When Perry got her heart transplant, she was 46 and already had been battling heart disease for years. She suffered heart failure at 27, and that was followed by a stroke and a heart attack.
When she received her heart transplant, she had been on the transplant list for 11 days and was in intensive care.
“My heart kept stopping,” said Perry, who usually maintains a weight of 165 pounds but was down to 124 pounds. Her husband, Dennis Perry, insists he wasn’t worried and was confident Mary would recover.
“Why else do you go to the hospital? You’re going to be fixed” he said.
Perry’s sister earlier had a heart transplant but died of cancer three years later.
“I was very, very confident, only because my sister had been through that” Perry said.
She woke up from the operation with tubes down her throat.
“It was strange” she said.
But she was released from the hospital two weeks after the transplant, hungry for a McRib sandwich from McDonald’s. Her doctor told her to eat one, and anything else she liked.
The doctor also ordered her to walk and get herself back into shape.
“Within about a week, I was walking two miles a day. Got my energy back,” she said.
One possible problem was whether her body would reject the new heart. Perry, who believes damage to her sister’s immune system was related to the transplant, did not have a problem.
“She’s been doing very well,” said Dr. Corinne Bott-Silverman, Perry’s cardiologist. “She’s been doing well since the beginning”
The Cleveland Clinic performed 44 heart transplants in 2013.
“We are a relatively busy, big transplant center,” Bott-Silverman said.
Perry’s daughter, Teresa Bollinger, of Huron, said she is grateful her mother has done so well.
“From the time she got her heart, she never rejected it. She never had any problems. It’s been remarkable,” Bowman said. “I’m lucky to have my mom”
Bollinger said the family celebrates the heart transplant every year, almost like a birthday.
“We’re going out to dinner Saturday to celebrate,” she said. “I might even ask her if she wants to go gambling”
Perry says there’s no telling what the future will bring.
“I could reject this heart tomorrow. There’s no guarantee on that,” she said. “None of us has any guarantees”
But she said she has learned what attitude to take toward life.
“I enjoy every day,” she said.