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Indiana woman on mission to sign-up more organ donors

“He’s not here, but he’s living on through me."
sharon Culbreath
Posted at 12:35 PM, Nov 24, 2022
and last updated 2022-11-27 13:47:10-05

INDIANAPOLIS — An Elkhart woman said this Thanksgiving she is thankful for so many things, two years after a transplant saved her life. Sharon Culbreath’s gratitude is what is pushing her to get more people to become organ donors.

“Our patients end up becoming our friends and family because we’ve known them for so long,” Dr. Sunit-Preet Chaudhry, Ascension St. Vincent Advance Heart Failure and Transplant Physician, said. He is Culbreath’s cardiologist.

The transplant journey officially began in October 2020. On the 20th of that month, Culbreath got a new heart.

“I’m a miracle standing here today,” Culbreath said.

At 49, Culbreath was told she needed a transplant. For nearly 20 years, she battled congestive heart failure.

“That time when we met, it was pretty evident quickly that medicines alone unfortunately weren’t going to be a good long-term option,” Dr. Chaudhry said.

Two years after transplant, Culbreath is doing well. She is thankful for moments like these, but what made it all possible is her donor. His name was Joe.

“He’s not here, but he’s living on through me,” Culbreath said.

Last month, affiliate ABC57 in South Bend captured the moments Culbreath met her donor family for the first time.

Photo Credit: Sharon Culbreath

“Now I have a second family. I have an extended family now,” Culbreath said with tears in her eyes.

Culbreath is the 603rd heart recipient through Ascension St. Vincent’s transplant program. In its 35 years, the hospital has done the most heart transplants in the state.

“The average wait, although Sharon was lucky, is multiple years in Indiana. The more people who donate, the larger pool we have for people,” Dr. Chaudhry said.

Since the day of her transplant, Culbreath has made it her mission to sign as many people up to become an organ donor as she can.

“I’m so grateful that there are people willing to be organ donors because it helps to save lives and I wouldn’t be here today if it wasn’t for one,” Culbreath said.

To give the gift of life is a gift that literally touched Culbreath’s heart — and she is hoping others too this Thanksgiving.

The Indiana Donor Network notes it takes less than two minutes to sign up to be an organ donor. To sign up, click here.