Since 2006, she has written to his family every year except one.
Barbara Gathers writes to offer thanks for her life-saving transplant in 2005.
She didn't write last year but is likely to resume this year, to the family of the 21-year-old man whose heart is in her own chest. Through LifePoint, an organ procurement organization, she expresses sympathy and gratitude to a family she does not know for a man she never met. "I tell them about me and ask about him -- his likes, dislikes, hobbies."
She has never gotten a reply. "Maybe one day they will surprise me and respond to my letters." Until then, she will continue to write and to live fully the new life she has been given.
'I was so sick'
Gathers, a North Carolina A&T State University grad and Army Corps of Engineers retiree, learned she had heart disease in 1998 during a physical to work in Japan. She had no symptoms. A pill a day allowed her to work for two years in Japan and return home to work for five more.
In 2005, the night before Gathers was to return to Japan, life changed abruptly. She had shortness of breath, palpitations. She was rushed to the hospital. Diagnosis: congestive heart failure.
Multiple ER visits and hospitalizations later, Gathers was told she had a year to live.
"I was so sick, I didn't have time to be depressed. I had led an enjoyable life, and God had seen me through."
Her doctor suggested the transplant list. "I thought you had to wait forever." Not so. In 10 days, she had a match. On Aug. 22, 2005, MUSC doctors gave Gathers her new heart.
MUSC has performed 457 heart transplants from 1988 through October. Its most recent came Wednesday to 3-year-old Morgan Porter.
'Things for me to do'
Gathers leads a relatively normal life. She takes "a lot" of pills, to prevent rejection and fight infection.
She gets on her treadmill almost daily. And she has always eaten healthy -- fish, chicken, turkey.
She travels throughout the United States, but "no cruises." She likes to be accessible to her doctors.
These days she is busy with her nonprofit, The Women's Resource Project Inc., which promotes health awareness for women. In February, it sponsors "Go Red for Women," which supports health ministries to raise awareness that heart disease is the No. 1 killer of women.
She speaks at churches and organizations, emphasizing diet, exercise and checkups. "That experience has brought me closer to God. There is still some things for me to do."
While Gathers can no longer be an organ donor, she encourages others to do so, especially African-Americans. According to medical stats, blacks have higher rates of diabetes and high blood pressure, increasing the risk of organ failure. Blacks make up 32 percent of those waiting for a kidney, and 20 percent of those needing a heart.
Gathers will always be curious about her donor. Maybe the postal carrier will deliver the answer one day.