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Former BYU athletes' sister gets second chance at life with new heart

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Estimated read time: 3-4 minutes

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SALT LAKE CITY — More than 700 Utah families are in the middle of a difficult waiting game— the wait for an organ transplant. It can be long, and often, the transplant organ doesn't come in time. Only 2 percent of deaths are actually eligible for organ donations.

One Utah woman has been waiting 280 days for the phone to ring.

"She's tougher than any of us," said Ryan Denney, Kim's brother and former BYU football player. "It's been really frustrating waiting for this call."

It was a hard moment when the social worker gave me a book called 'Peaceful Dying.'

–Kim Denney

Doctors diagnosed Kim's heart condition when she was 14. She refused to let it leave her on the sidelines, but in her 30s the condition worsened.

"In this bag is my favorite pillow and a quilt my mom made," Kim said. "She made specifically for me in the hospital."

Kim has had to spend a lot of time in the hospital, and she says it can be very depressing.

"When transplant was mentioned in the very beginning, there were definitely dark days." Kim said.

At 37, Kim had to face the possibility of an early death.

"It was a hard moment when the social worker gave me a book called ‘Peaceful Dying,'" she said.

Kim says she did not want to think about death— she never read the book.

By the numbers

  • 730 Utahns are waiting for lifesaving organs
  • 70 percent of Utahns have joined the organ donation list but 30 percent are still holding back
  • One organ donor can save up to nine lives and have an impact on 50 or 60 lives if tissues are also transplanted

  • "I came home and put it on the shelf next to my books about travel, passport because even though I have to think about those things, I prefer to think about the other things," she said.

    That wasn't easy as she had little energy and lived under lots of restrictions.

    "I have about a 35 to 40 minute leash to the hospital in Salt Lake and my activities are limited in the city scope," Kim said. "I have a lot of medications to take."

    Kim has to bring her medications to every doctor's appointment so they can record what she is taking. She says she is feeling "OK" right now.

    On the day KSL-TV followed Kim to her doctor's appointment, she was nervous that the condition of her lungs might get her taken off the transplant list. Her doctor reassured her that she still had a few more months. They would later learn she didn't have that much time. The next day her story took a dramatic turn.

    You think about this moment over and over again. I'm incredibly grateful. I have every intention of living my life so that my donor and my donor's family will be proud of the sacrifice they've given.

    –Kim Denney

    "When we finished the interview I said ‘Kim you did what you wanted to do to raise awareness about organ donation' and we joked now she could get her heart. The next morning I got a text. It was from Kim saying she got the heart," said Candice Madsen, KSL-TV producer.

    Kim could hardly believe that the phone call finally came.

    "You think about this moment over and over again," she said. "I'm incredibly grateful. I have every intention of living my life so that my donor and my donor's family will be proud of the sacrifice they've given."

    While Kim underwent surgery, her family prayed not only for her but also for the donor's family.

    "I can truly say I prayed more for the donor family in that 24 hours than I prayed for Kim because I knew Kim was going to be alright," said Sheri Denney, Kim's mother.

    Two weeks after surgery Kim packed up her mother's quilt and the rest of her belongings to embark on her new life.

    Deseret News:
    Organ donation can save lives, but only if a match is availableOnly 2 percent of deaths are eligible for organ donation, so the more names on a state's organ donation registry, the better chances those fighting for survival might have.

    "I feel incredible," she said. "I feel better than the day I came in here. Better than probably the last two years."

    But she almost didn't survive the transplant. When doctors began operating on Kim, they discovered serious problems with her kidneys and lungs. Her donor heart came just in time.

    "The timing is unbelievable," Kim said. "In the ten months I was waiting my health had declined significantly enough that had they done that initial evaluation I might have been listed for transplant."

    Kim owes her life to a skilled surgical team at Intermountain Medical Center and a stranger who made the decision to donate life. Now instead of fearing the elapse of time, Kim can make plans far into the future.

    "I am so excited about the rest of my life and every minute," she said.

    Contributing: Nadine Wimmer


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    Candice Madsen


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