Heart transplant recipient lives new life with new heart

MEMPHIS, TN (WMC) - Heart disease is the leading cause of death for both men and women and it's one of the most preventable causes of death.

The American Heart Association dedicated the month of February as Heart Health Month in an effort to raise awareness and strategies for preventing heart disease.

For those like Vera Milam-Johnson, heart disease is personal. She's the picture of health today, but that wasn't always the case.

In 2006, Johnson started feeling weak and out of breath from the slightest exertion.

"I was having problems going up and down the stairs to go to bed and said 'you better go to the doctor,' because I was having to hold onto the furniture and everything just to get in the bed and I was continually out of breath," Johnson said.

She was diagnosed with congestive heart failure.

"I was not even aware of what was congestive heart failure was," she said.

But, she learned fast and gave up a lifelong habit in the process.

One of the doctors gave her advice that helped her life immensely.

"He said, 'if you plan on living, you better stop smoking.' From that day to this one, I have not smoked," she said.

But, it wasn't enough. Johnson's health deteriorated largely due to rheumatoid arthritis.

"It was more the arthritis eating at the muscles, the inflammation eating at the muscles of my heart," she said.

By June 2011, she went on the transplant list.

Then, in an almost unheard of amount of time, she received a miracle. On September 7, 2011, she received a new heart.

"That is a journey and a lot of things happen while you're on that journey," Johnson said. "But, you just have to relax and obey the doctors and go from here."

Copyright 2017 WMC Action News 5. All rights reserved.