Mary Jo Renner

Mary Jo Renner

Heart Recipient, South Dakota

It took healthy, active Mary Jo Renner 27 years to find out she had a deadly heart condition. At 27, she learned that the little skipped beats her heart missed were actually a sign of a serious illness called dilated cardiomyopathy. No more waterskiing, no more biking. Instead, a new life with many restrictions.

As she got sicker, Mary Jo’s life was governed by constantly choosing from limited options. It was a life of OR—she could either wash the dishes OR buy groceries, but never both. A life where she could walk up either one OR two steps, but never the whole flight. Where, in her case, pregnancy could be life-threatening. It was no children OR adoption.

Adoption brought two wonderful children into their family. In a life lived with OR, Mary Jo and her husband Roger did their best. Eventually, Mary Jo became very ill, and was placed on the waitlist.

She waited a little over a year, until one day a nurse delivered the news: she would receive the gift of a healthy new heart.

Mary Jo had thought many times about how her transplant would be at the time another person lost their life.

It was hard to think of such loss and not feel grief. That grief she anticipated while waiting would be the grief felt by Bozena, Mirek and Michelle over the loss of their son and brother, Steve, who was only 19 years old.

Today, Mary Jo visits Steve’s parents and they find joy in their connection. With them, she mourns the loss of the wonderful young man who gave her the gift of life, and she celebrates his generosity by living a compassionate life of her own.

Mary Jo doesn’t have one OR two steps, dishes OR groceries—she now has a life of AND. She can bike AND grocery shop AND help an elderly neighbor. Steve gave her a life of AND—a fuller, longer, healthier life—made possible by transplantation AND donation.

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