On March 20, Trisha Rowe will mark the 15th anniversary of a match that is close to her heart.

In fact, it is her heart.

The Grove City resident will be celebrating 15 years since she received a life-saving heart transplant at Ohio State University.

"It's said that a transplant is a second chance at life, but it's not a cure," Rowe, 42, said. "But my new heart has allowed me to live life to the fullest, although the definition of 'fullest' is different in my situation.

"All I know is I've been able to watch my niece and nephew grow up, I just celebrated my great-niece turning 3 and I've been able to attend weddings and other celebrations with my friends and family," she said.

"I wouldn't have been able to see any of that without a transplant. It makes you grateful."

"In my work, I get to meet so many people like Trisha," said Jessica Petersen, media- and public-relations coordinator with Lifeline of Ohio. "I never know whether to laugh or to cry."

Both emotions reflect the joy of knowing a person who registered as an organ donor has helped save the life of another, she said.

Long wait for wellness

Laughter has been one way Rowe said she has coped with a lifetime of heart issues.

"I've got quite a sense of humor," she said. "You have to find the humor in things."

Born with a heart transposition, Rowe endured her first open heart surgery at age 2. In second grade, she received a pacemaker after falling and hitting her chest on the playground while playing chicken with friends. Medication she was taking resulted in a severe loss of hearing.

"The medicine saved my life, but I lost my hearing," Rowe said.

"Choosing between losing my hearing and losing my life? No contest."

She again had major heart surgery at age 21.

Her health stabilized until 2002, when at age 27, Rowe experienced a dramatic decline of her heart function due to an infection.

She spent months in the hospital as doctors considered what they could do.

The answer was a heart transplant.

"I didn't think I was going to make it," Rowe said. "I started making preparations to die. I showed my Mom where I wanted to be buried. I made out my will. I was 27. That's the last thing you're supposed to be thinking about when you're 27."

When doctors suggested it might be better for her to go home, she balked.

"Somehow I knew I would die if I went home," Rowe said. "They said, 'you're probably going home.' I said, 'I'm staying.' They had a meeting. Guess who stayed in the hospital?"

Not that the hospital was a pleasant place to be, she said.

She grew to resent the IV pole which supplied her with some of her medication.

"So I started to think of it as being my boyfriend," Rowe said. "I dressed 'him' up as a clown for Halloween."

The holidays passed -- Halloween, Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year's Day.

"Our family celebrated Christmas in the hospital with me. Some friends had a baby shower in my room so I could attend," Rowe said.

At one point, the hospital informed her there was a match and prepared her for transplant surgery. She was put under anesthesia and taken down for the operation, but then it was determined the heart was not a proper match.

"I didn't get a new heart. It turned out to just be a 'dry run,' " Rowe said. "I got a swollen neck instead."

On March 19, 2003, doctors again reported there was a good match and told her to prepare for surgery. She waited with family members as a few hours went by.

"Then they said, 'sorry, we can't give this heart to you,' " Rowe said.

"Not the best day of my life. The waiting is the toughest. The longer you have to wait, the more nervous you become," she said.

On March 20, another match had been found.

She would be going to surgery in 15 minutes.

"I hurriedly called my family. I was so afraid I wouldn't get to see them before the surgery," Rowe said. "Fortunately, I was able to get hold of my parents and they both just made it in time."

This time, the match was good and Rowe received her new heart.

The donor was a woman from South Carolina who died in a traffic accident.

About two years ago, Rowe met the donor's family.

"They tracked me down on Facebook. They contacted a lot of Trishas in Ohio before they reached me," Rowe said. "I think it gave them comfort meeting me, knowing that while their family member lost her life, she saved mine."

Shawls as tributes

Rowe participates in Lifeline of Ohio's Shawls of Support program. She and other volunteers, many of them transplant recipients, make shawls that are presented to donor families to comfort them in their time of loss.

"I always sew a heart on mine," she said. "Making the shawls is a way I pay tribute to my donor and her family and try to give something back for what I've received."

While her transplanted heart has given her 15 years of life, Rowe said she still has to take great care of herself.

"I have to stay away from anyone who has the flu or a cold," she said.

"I can go out running around for a couple of days, but then my body tells me I need to stop and I have to rest for a day."

Taking sewing classes and making regular visits to the Grove City Library are how she lives her life to the fullest, Rowe said.

"Going to the library might seem like a simple thing to most people. It's something that I'm grateful to be able to do."

Facts of donation

The need for organ, eye and tissue donations is acute, Petersen said.

"There are more than 115,000 people nationwide who are currently on the waiting list for organ transplants," she said. "The large majority of them need kidney transplants."

Lifeline of Ohio is an independent nonprofit organ procurement organization.

"We are here to help promote and coordinate organ, eye and tissue donations in our service area," which covers 37 counties in central and southeastern Ohio and two counties in West Virginia, Petersen said.

Many people have misconceptions about organ and tissue donation, she said.

"People think they are too old to be a donor, but the oldest organ donor to date was 92 years old and the oldest cornea and tissue donor was 107," Petersen said.

"A lot of people think they've worn their bodies down too much to be a donor. What we say is it's still important to sign up to be a donor. The medical professionals will be able to make the final determination," she said.

A single donor can potentially save the lives of eight people and restore the lives of more than 50 others through the donation of organs (heart, two lungs, two kidneys, liver, pancreas and small bowel) and tissue (corneas, bone, fascia, skin, veins and heart valves), she said.

In Ohio, 58.3 percent of residents are registered as organ, eye and tissue donors.

"The reason why we still have so many people waiting for organ transplants is that a person must die through the process of brain death to have the potential for organ donation," Petersen said. "Only about 1 percent of people who die fit that criteria."

One does not need to die of brain death to be a tissue donor, she said.

Ohioians can register as donors at www.lifelineofohio.org or by declaring their intent when they renew their drivers' licenses. Donors can specify if they wish to set some restrictions on what they are willing to donate.