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Triple organ recipient's mother was able to give her life twice

Posted at 6:27 PM, Jul 14, 2022
and last updated 2022-07-15 11:03:58-04

RICHMOND, Va. — Heather James is still pinching herself. Four months ago, the Virginia Commonwealth University graduate’s career path led her to UNOS.

“It has been a dream come true to finally work at my dream organization,” said Heather. “As soon as I landed the job here I felt at home. You know I felt like I had found my work family. This is where I wanted to be.”

Heather works with patients at the Richmond-based United Network for Organ Sharing, which is the engine that powers the nationwide transplant system.

“I truly understand what they’re going through,” said Heather.

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Heather James was born with cystic fibrosis.

The 27-year-old seemed destined to work there. For Heather, she isn’t just delighted with her role. She is lucky to be alive.

“So I was born with Cystic Fibrosis a genetic lung disease,” she explained.

Her ailment made it nearly impossible for Heather to breathe.

“Think of it like trying to breathe through a coffee stirrer,” described Heather.

Doctors said the straight-A student would need two organ transplants.

“So if I didn’t get the double lung and liver transplant, there was a very good chance I wasn’t going to live to see the new year,” said Heather.

In 2014, a donor named Anne died of a brain aneurysm. Heather’s life was spared.

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“Without her gift, there is no way I would have survived,” said Heather. “I think about Anne and her family every day.”

Lauren James said her daughter is an inspiration.

“Oh boy, she is as tough as nails,” said Lauren. “Oh my goodness, the things she has gone through. Here she is coming out on the other side, and she is probably one of the most positive human beings I know.”

But not long after her initial transplants, Heather’s health deteriorated.

She would need yet another transplant.

“Two transplants weren’t enough for me,” said Heather. “Immediately following my double lung and liver transplant my kidneys shut down. Completely.”

Heather didn’t need to look too far for salvation.

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 “My mom was a perfect match,” said Heather.

In December 2017, Lauren donated her kidney to her daughter.

“What an amazing day that was. It was so much fun. I know that sounds crazy,” said Lauren.

Heather hasn’t felt better. And while channeling her energy to help others, she remains eternally grateful for the generosity of all donors — especially Anne and her Mom.

“I’ve had a lot of blessings come my way despite the challenges,” said Heather. “I just love her. She gave me life once and she gave me life a second time so. So thankful for her. I just love having her as my mom.”

Heather James said her position at UNOS Organ Center during its 40th anniversary is more than a job its her calling.

“I’ve always been a determined individual,” said Heather. “I set my mind to something. It might take me awhile to get there if I have setbacks along the way but I usually get there.”

UNOS’s Organ Center in downtown Richmond celebrates its 40th anniversary on July 15.

Greg McQuade features local heroes in a weekly “Heroes Among Us” segment. Watch Greg’s reports Thursdays on CBS News at 6 or here on WTVR.com. If you would like to nominate someone to be featured on “Heroes Among Us,” click here to email heroes@wtvr.com.

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