Originally Released: March, 1998
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After four months in cardiac intensive care, a 56-year-old Baltimore County woman woke up at the University of Maryland Medical Center with a new heart on Valentine's Day.
What makes this transplant unusual is that it was a "directed donation" -- a rare occurrence in which an organ donor's family may designate the recipient. Today, Mary "Bobbie" di Sabatino, the recipient, has resumed an active life and is speaking out on behalf of the need for organ donations.
The heart came from 38-year-old Cheryl Bradshaw of Carroll County, who died of a congenital vascular defect in her brain. After her death, her husband, Bob Bradshaw, asked that her heart be donated to Ms. di Sabatino.
Bradshaw had been maintaining a vigil at his wife's side in the Medical Center. At the same time, he struck up a friendship with Ms. di Sabatino's youngest daughter, Carman Moloney, who had been visiting her mother daily.
On Feb. 12, after one month in the hospital, 38-year-old Cheryl died, and her husband, Bob, told Carman he wanted her mother to have his wife's heart. The transplant occurred on the night of Feb. 13, and when she woke up on Valentine's Day, Bobbie di Sabatino had a new heart. She went home from the hospital eight days later.
"I will never be able to thank him enough," she says. "He and Cheryl have given me a new chance at life. Organ donation is so important because other people like me are waiting for a new heart or other organs." Ms. di Sabatino, who was hospitalized last October after a near-fatal heart attack, recently retired as an administrative assistant at the University of Maryland School of Physical Therapy.
"This whole thing is a miracle," says daughter Carman. "First, Bob and my family had been praying for each other. Then, it turned out that Cheryl's heart was a perfect match. Doctors Freudenberger and Conte were with us all the way, and now my mom has a new heart."
The transplant was performed by cardiothoracic surgeons John Conte, M.D., director of heart-lung transplantation at the University of Maryland Medical Center, and Stephen Downing, M.D. Ronald Freudenberger, M.D., medical director of cardiac transplantation, who is in charge of Ms. di Sabatino's care, says she is progressing very well.
Neurosurgeon J. Marc Simard, M.D., Ph.D., treated Mrs. Bradshaw and is working with Bob to raise public awareness of arterial vascular malformation, a condition Cheryl was born with but was unaware of until a seizure in December 1997.
"Cheryl's death was a terrible loss to me and our children," says Bob Bradshaw, "but we hope to turn this pain into something positive by calling attention to the need for research funding for AVMs." Bradshaw has set up a fund in his wife's memory to do just that.
The University of Maryland Medical Center is a leading regional transplant center, specializing in heart, lung, kidney, pancreas and liver transplants. There are 60 people in Maryland now waiting for new hearts, and the average waiting time for a heart is 180 days. AVM is an abnormal collection of blood vessels that short-circuits blood flow to the brain, causing eventual seizures or stroke-like bleeding and nerve damage. The Medical Center also is a major referral center in the region for AVM diagnosis and treatment.
The late Mrs. Bradshaw, formerly Cheryl Piechowicz, was in the headlines 15 years ago when she courageously testified in a drug case, despite the fact she was marked for murder by a hit man who wound up killing her sister and her husband instead.
Cheryl and her husband, Scott, had worked at the Warren House Motor Hotel in Pikesville. Cheryl had identified a lodger as drug dealer Anthony Grandison and was planning to testify against him. Grandison hired a hit man to kill her, but on April 28, 1983, when the hit man arrived at the hotel, Cheryl was not at work. Her sister, Susan Kennedy, was filling in for her. Cheryl's husband, Scott, 27, and her sister, Susan, 19, were killed.
In spite of that, Cheryl remained a witness against Grandison, who is on Death Row along with the convicted hit man, Vernon Evans Jr.
Cheryl later married Bob Bradshaw, and, together, they raised four children.
Contributions to The Cheryl Bradshaw Memorial Foundation may be sent to Post Office Box 1903, Ellicott City, MD, 21041.
Persons interested in becoming designated as organ donors should call the Transplant Resource Center of Maryland at 1-800-641-HERO.
For patient inquiries, call 1-800-492-5538 or click here to make an appointment.