Vernelle Dickerson and her sister Geneva enjoy taking care of their 99 year old mother. But it wasn't long ago that Dickerson was the person needing help. In March of 2003 she was diagnosed with leukemia. She underwent chemotherapy for the cancer but says she soon found herself in a battle for her life.
“The chemotherapy it resulted in damaging my mitrovalve so in 2004 I had to have open heart surgery to have the mitrovalve replaced.” Dickerson said
And if cancer were not enough, Dickerson was soon in a war with her own body. She says her heart would be challenged again.
“In 2009 I was in Bethesda Maryland and had a heart attack. I never fully recuperated from the heart attack. Then in June 2011 I had to have a heart transplant” Dickerson said.
Dickerson was familiar with transplantations. She met donors and recipients while working at the Medical University of South Carolina. She knew heart transplants were rare, but her faith and her family comforted her.
She said “(I) really didn't have a lot of fear in not getting a heart I knew I was going to get one.”
Father's Day, June 19. 2011, she became the 452nd person in the state to receive a heart transplant.
“All I remember doing was crying and thanking God you know for this heart on Fathers Day and the chaplain said that was the greatest gift I could ever receive.”
Lifepoint is the designated organ procurement organization throughout most of South Carolina. They procured the heart that now beats in Dickerson's body.
Lifepoint provides organ, tissue and other donor services to 62 hospitals throughout South Carolina, including Ashley River Tower at MUSC, where Dickerson underwent transplant surgery.
She has become a spokesperson for the organization. She uses her voice to tell others that when one life ends or changes, another one can continue with the gift of an organ or tissue.
She says on Valentine's Day, adding your name to the donor registry is a true sign of love.
“When I look at valentine day it is all about love and then for me to have received a new heart.”