AKRON, Ohio — Every day, 23-year-old Katherine Herrmann puts on her running shoes and goes for a walk. It sounds routine, but it's actually a miracle.
"Growing up, it was, it was different. It was, especially with social life or with friends," Katherine told us.
At just a few weeks old, Katherine was diagnosed with Shone's Complex, a rare congenital heart condition that affects blood flow, and usually involves multiple defects. At the hospital, doctors told Katherine's family to be prepared.
"Plan for the worst, hope for the best," Katherine told us.
The best, is what Katherine gave each year, participating in things like musical theater and choir in high school.
"f I can't, you know, go and play hockey or go and play dodge ball, what I can do is sit and share an experience," she said.
For nearly two decades, she received care at Akron Children's Hospital and underwent surgeries at Cleveland Clinic. In all, enduring more than 20 heart procedures, including six different pacemakers. By the time she hit fall semester at Kent State University, her health had shifted.
"The heart had had 18 years of surgeries and procedures and just being sick. And while we repaired it as much as we could, it had 18 years of damage," Katherine said.
Doctors delivered the news: Katherine would need a new heart to survive.
"It was a really hard year mentally and physically of, 'I'm ready for this, please. I just, I need my second chance. I'm ready for it,'" Katherine said.
A year later, the second chance arrived.
"I had restrictions on even when I could get a heart, I wasn't allowed to have a heart on a weekend. I wasn't allowed to have a heart in the middle of the night. I had to have the right surgeons and the right people on call in order to allow me to even have a procedure," she explained.
Yet, that's exactly what happened: At Cleveland Clinic, the perfect moment, team, and heart, came together.
"I went to ICU at around midnight," Katherine explained. "I remember exactly going to sleep. I remember seeing ... the last face I saw was actually ... he was the fellow surgeon, actually. Um, it was completely full circle. His dad is my cardiologist at Akron Children's Hospital," Katherine said.
As she gained her new life, she thought of another.
"Immediately, you know, we took time to pray for the family, and what they were gonna be going through," Katherine said.
Desiree Burge, of West Virginia, was a mother of two who passed suddenly in July 2022. Through organ donation, she saved five lives, including Katherine's.
When Katherine got married to her husband Ian, she brought Desiree's spirit with her.
"I actually bought a gold necklace that said "Desiree," and we wrapped it around my bouquet," Katherine said.
"It's me walking down as a physical, but it's her heart that's actually, you know, walking down that aisle," Katherine said.
Today, Katherine's still walking every day, accomplishing things she's never been able to do. By caring for herself, she's honoring Desiree.
"Giving thanks is also just keeping healthy, staying healthy, making sure I'm using this heart for the best possible purpose," Katherine said.
It's something for which Desiree's parents are forever grateful.
"I couldn't have asked for a better recipient. While it was a tragedy on our end, it's a miracle on hers. And I'm very happy for her," Desiree's father, Darrell Conner said.
Two families, forever bonded, by tragedy, triumph, and the miracle of giving life.
"Really what matters most is utilizing this heart, you know, to share a story, to share a miracle, to share faith, and to really just let her story be told," Katherine said.
One person can save the lives of eight by donating organs and heal the lives of 75 through tissue donation. Anyone can sign up to be a donor, regardless of age or medical history. Register as an organ, tissue and cornea donor today by clicking HERE.
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