Women share survival stories from the heart

"I was desperate to find an answer," Zimmerman said. "It was obvious something was terribly wrong."

When she visited a hospital emergency room, it was found she was having "full-blown congestive heart failure," Zimmerman said.

"My heart was functioning at barely 15 percent," she said.

When she asked her physician how long she had to live, offering a year as a suggestion, she was told she couldn't even be promised another day.

"He then explained my only hope was heart transplant," she said.

Zimmerman went ahead with the procedure. When a heart was finally secure for her, Zimmerman's husband, David, rushed to be by her side for the operation. He had been working in the Gulf of Mexico as an off-shore surveyor and had to take a helicopter flight out to reach her. However, the helicopter had to make an emergency landing along the way.

"He actually arrived just minutes before I went into surgery," recalled Zimmerman.

But, something was not right. Zimmerman's husband was showing signs of whiplash, though he downplayed it, she said. It wasn't until Zimmerman was successfully out of her surgery she learned her husband suffered a tear to an artery in his brain - one that would be fatal.

"David died nine days after my transplant," she said.

The loss of her husband left Zimmerman wondering if her new heart would have the strength to go on.

"'Could my new heart take this pain and grief,'" Zimmerman said she remembers asking herself.

It did. In fact, Zimmerman has continued to exceed her doctors' expectations of her to live only about eight years after her surgery.

"I've drawn on every ounce of faith and courage I had to get through this for our three young sons," said Zimmerman, who noted it has now been 13 years since her surgery.

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