Heart Transplant Recipient Celebrates the Life of her Donor

Most 26-year-old women experience heartaches over men, children and careers.

Melissa Simon’s heartache was literal.

Simon, a Westchester resident, had suffered heart disease for 13 years when she underwent a surgery to repair her heart valve in April of 2007. The procedure was not successful, and her doctors at Northwestern placed her name at the top of the United Network for Organ Sharing national transplant waiting list.

“It was the only option left,” Simon says. “My heart was only functioning at 10%.”

As Simon lay in a hospital bed, counting ceiling tiles to pass the time, a 14-year-old girl, Chloe Coleman, passed away in Chapel Hill, N.C. Her parents decided to donate Chloe’s organs. Because Chloe and Simon had the same blood type and body size, Melissa received Chloe’s heart.

“Chloe saved the lives of 5 people,” Simon, now 30, says.

After the transplant surgery, Simon began thinking of ways to honor Chloe’s memory. She started volunteering with the American Heart Association to help spread the word about the importance of organ donation. She also posted a video online (see below) as a tribute to Chloe.

Chloe’s grieving parents, John and Linda, stumbled on the video and began exchanging emails with Simon.

In 2010, Simon decided to raise money for the American Heart Association by completing Hustle Up the Hancock, a race in which more than 2,500 people run up the 94 floors of the Chicago landmark. The Colemans flew in for the event and were waiting for Simon at the finish line.

“They’ve found a sense of peace knowing Chloe lives on in me and others,” Simon says.

Last year, Simon and her husband met the Colemans again, this time to attend a performance by the East Chapel Hill High School chorus of “The Heart Within,” a poem written by Chloe two years before she died.

Simon will “Hustle up the Hancock” again on February 27 The day before, she’ll load up on heart healthy foods at the Chicago Go Red For Women Luncheon, an annual event sponsored by the American Heart Association.

“Everyone thinks they won’t ever need a transplant or ever know anyone who needs one,” Simon says. “I’m proof that’s not true. I can’t stress enough how important it is to lead a heart healthy lifestyle by eating right, drinking water, and exercising. I do all three more than ever to keep Chloe’s heart healthy.”

If you are interested in becoming an organ donor, visit Donate Life Illinois.

PHOTO CAPTION: Melissa Simon with Linda Coleman, the mother of Melissa’s heart transplant donor, Chloe Coleman.