In 2001, Webster resident Peggy Taylor caught a cold. That virus caused permanent damage to Peggy's heart.
"For years, I thought I was fine with medicine,” said Peggy. In 2018, her heart started to fail, and she received a defibrillator and an ablation. By April of 2019, Peggy's physician presented her with three choices.
"I could be hooked up to monitors and live a year, or I could get plugged into an LVAD and live for three years," stated Peggy. "The third option was a heart transplant."
As a woman in her early 60's, Peggy knew she was too young to die and too active to be plugged into an LVAD. She chose to move forward with the transplant, knowing that not everyone is a candidate. A panel of physicians chooses transplant candidates after conducting background checks, medical tests, and extensive procedures to identify patients with the best chance of success.
The tests and procedures to prepare Peggy for her heart transplant took weeks. Memorial Day weekend was quickly approaching, and timing was crucial.
"Unfortunately for some, but beneficial for transplant candidates, big holidays like Memorial Day are known as [organ] harvesting weekends,” noted Peggy. “Lots of people have accidents."
She was placed on the donor waiting list at the end of May. Five days later, a heart match was flown into Barnes Hospital.
"I placed my life in God's hands. I received the Last Rites. I arranged my funeral," Peggy remembered. "The hardest part for me was saying goodbye to my two girls. I could never have imagined having to do that. I didn't want to say goodbye. But there were things I needed to say."
When Peggy woke up after surgery, she immediately looked to her husband Lee for assurance.
"At the time, I didn't know if I had the transplant or not,” Peggy said. “There was a possibility that it might not have worked. I wanted to hear him say that everything went well."
After speaking to her husband and confirming that the transplant was successful, she had a thought.
"I wanted to look at my chest,” said Peggy. “I told myself, 'Just to sit up and look. No big deal.’”
Peggy describes what happened next as an incredible blessing.
"I looked down and I saw my mother, who passed away years ago, laying on top of me,” Peggy said. “She didn't speak to me. She was just there. Her body was face down against my chest like she was hugging me. And from that moment on, I have never had one bit of pain. I believe she was taking away my pain. I know now that mothers, loved ones, are always with you. And they are always protecting you. For me, that was a miraculous moment of comfort."
And then, Peggy experienced another miracle.
"It could have been 30 seconds later or 30 minutes later," Peggy remembered. "It's the typical light people talk about. I saw a door open. I think of it as God's Robe. There was the Light. I remember thinking how beautiful and brilliant the Light was. I didn't need sunglasses to look directly into the Light even though it was the brightest thing I had ever seen. As the Light started moving toward me, the warmth was overwhelming. It was so comforting. I wanted to grab it and hold on to it. And then the Light entered my body."
Peggy stated that the Light was the miracle of the Holy Spirit living inside of her. "The real miracle for me is that I'm not afraid to die now,” Peggy explained. “I always had faith. I always believed there was a God who loved me. But now I know that once I do die, not only am I still going to be around for my children like my mother was for me, but also that God's love is beautiful."
In the following weeks, Peggy grew emotional with thoughts of gratitude and grief. "I was very sad that someone had to die so that I could live," said Peggy. "What had I ever done to receive all of these enormous gifts? Why was I blessed with my mother, the Holy Spirit, and my life? I'm not that special."
She felt too ordinary to receive such an extraordinary gift.
A priest said to Peggy, "You may not be in a place to understand this, but did it ever occur to you that God created your donor just for you?" It truly was a blessing that Peggy was able to receive this heart since out of 1,000 deaths, only three are able to donate organs.
But she readily admits his words did NOT make her feel better. "I'm just a regular person. I'm faithful, but I don't go to church every day. I was overwhelmed with the thought that someone loves me that much."
If there is any pain that Peggy lives with since her transplant, it's the pain of not knowing more about her donor, a young girl who lost her life, yet gave her heart.
"I'm heartbroken that this family lost their daughter," Peggy said sadly. "I don't know what happened to her. I don't know her name or what town she is from. All I know is that she was 19 and lived in Montana."
Peggy has written to the family multiple times. They have never responded.
"I desperately want to meet them and tell them how grateful I am for their daughter,” stated Peggy. “I feel it is my job to make sure she lives through me."
By the end of February 2020, it had been almost a year since the surgery and Peggy’s recovery was on track. When COVID hit, she wanted to find ways to continue staying active. Having two bad knees meant walking around the neighborhood was not an option, and she isn’t a fan of joining a gym. But Peggy had always been a bike person.
"Riding a bike is my jam!" Peggy exclaims. However, with knee issues and a fear of losing her balance and falling, she wondered how she would ever be able to ride again.
Peggy had passed the Pedego bike store many times. Every time, she felt a pull to go inside. Knowing nothing about electric bikes, she gathered information. In early March, armed with research and reassurance from her sisters who are avid traditional bike riders, Peggy requested a private meeting with Bill and Carla Sauerwein, the owners of Pedego St. Louis.
"I had to be their worst customer," laughed Peggy. "I had a list of 30 questions. I told them I had health issues, but I didn't tell them I had a heart transplant. All they knew was that I had bad knees. Bill put me on a Boomerang Bike and said, 'Peggy. This bike is going to change your life.' I scoffed that off as a typical sales line."
Little did she know that he was right. Peggy felt her strength return as she began riding consistently.
"I didn't realize how weak I was back in March,” Peggy said. “I felt good, but I wasn’t very strong. But now, after riding my bike over the past ten months, Bill was right. My bike has changed my life.”
Peggy rides every day, sometimes twice a day. She has a group of friends she rides with called the Pedego-Go’s. “I would ride all day long if my battery would allow.”
Peggy has logged over 2,180 miles on her bike since March. She averages 30 – 35 miles a day.
“I pedal 99.9% of the time because I want the exercise. But,” Peggy added with a gleam in her eye, "sometimes I hit the throttle for fun."
Peggy defines being healthy as having freedom. "My bike gives me the freedom to ride anywhere,” she explained. “I've been able to experience a whole new world of nature and beauty just outside my door. I'm stronger than I have ever been. I'm healthier than I ever imagined I could be." Peggy paused and said with heartfelt conviction, "I owe my recovery to Bill and Carla."
As Peggy rides new trails and experiences wonderful sights, she says to her heart, "Did you see that?"
Peggy smiled as she talked about her donor, whom she still had not identified, but talks to every day through her heart. “She only lived 19 years,” Peggy said. “She may not have had these experiences. I share everything with her. She's the most important person, and I try to relay that to her every day."
For more information about Organ Donation visit https://www.organdonor.gov