ANN ARBOR, Mich. - A woman who received a lung transplant more than 20 years ago at the University of Michigan Hospital was honored Friday for working to give back.
Bev Cherwinski said on May 5, 1999, she went from existing to being able to live again, thanks to the transplant. Every day since, she has worked to give hope to others waiting for the same lifesaving call.
For two decades, Cherwinski, now 75 years old, has been planting rose bushes at hospitals across Michigan.
"I'm feeling very good," Cherwinski said. "I wish my age was going the other way."
Cherwinski said she remembers what it was like to be on the waiting list.
"I only had to wait 14 months of the 48, I was told, so I was very lucky," Cherwinski said.
She got a new lease on life and was able to watch her grandchildren grow.
"I would never have seen them because they came after my transplant," Cherwinski said. "Three beautiful grandkids -- oldest is graduating."
Over the last 20 years, she's worked to raise awareness about organ donation. She also helped create a support network for patients.
"That's why I started it," Cherwinski said. "I needed some assistance about how you will look, questions you wouldn't ask your doctor."
Every year since her transplant, Cherwinski has planted a rose bush to honor the sacrifices of donors and their families. Two decades later, she's retiring.
"I appreciate it very much," Cherwinski said. "It shows how much they really care."
She celebrated her final rose bush ceremony Friday at the University of Michigan Transplant Center.
"It's bittersweet because I know she's done it for 20 years and has many more ahead," said John Magee, the director of the U of M Transplant Center.
According to the secretary of state, more than 3,000 Michigan residents are waiting for an organ transplant.
"I think it's the ultimate recognition of what we want to achieve, great celebration of human spirit," Magee said.
Cherwinski is passing the torch, but she said she has no signs to slow down in retirement.
"It's a wonderful gift, the ultimate gift that someone can give -- the last gift you're going to give, probably the best ever," Cherwinski said.
She said she will continue to meet with donors and recipients and talk to medical students.
If you would like to become an organ donor, you simply have to visit your nearest Secretary of State Office.
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