On a cul-de-sac in the Springfield subdivision in Fort Mill lives a man and a woman and their son. Andrea and Rob McConaughy, and their 14-year-old son, Andrew. And part of somebody else.
Inside the chest of wife and mother Andrea , where it has been for the past 20 years, is the heart that once belonged to someone she never met when he was alive. Yet he lives in her.
“His name was Michael, and he’s an angel to me,” McConaughy said.
Twenty years ago, she received Michael’s heart in a transplant after he was shot to death.
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“I think about Michael every day,” she said. “He is the someone whose life had to end to save mine.”
Because McConaughy, 20 years ago, was going to die herself without a transplant.
From age 14, McConaughy endured a heart disease that made the muscle three times its normal size. But she lived through it for years, graduating college and reaching age 26, when there was no more dealing with the heart she was born with. She had to have a transplant.
She spent six months waiting at University of Pittsburgh Medical Center in Pennsylvania, and during that time became a folk hero of sorts around the city when she was able with the help of doctors and medical people go to a Pittsburgh Penguins hockey game and more with the machine that beat her heart for her. It was a machine so big it looked just like a washing machine and weighed 400 pounds but she was tough and courageous and she did not quit.
Finally, in late August 1996, the transplant happened.
Transplants are rare, and living 20 years afterward is rarer, but what happened in the middle of all of that living since, is really remarkable.
Andrea McConaughy wanted to have a baby. Only a few dozen women had ever become pregnant and had a child after a heart transplant - 20 years ago it was even fewer, just a handful in the world.
But McConaughy told her doctor that she agreed to the transplant to have “a second chance at life,” and that life included being a mother.
In 2002, Andrew was born.
“I’m part of a pretty small club,” McConaughy said. “Mothers who have had a heart transplant. I was given a gift,”
Years later, Rob and Andrea adopted another son, Colin. But in 2012, Colin, just 2, died from brain cancer.
Yet the resolve of this lady who has refused to quit on life since age 14 – with the last 20 years of someone else’s heart in her chest – remains. McConaughy is devoted not just to her family but to organ donation, and being part of the fight to find cures and prevent pediatric cancer.
In her neighborhood are countless yellow bows on mailboxes – part of a fundraiser for pediatric cancer. She has tied in with Dana Boutwell of Fort Mill, the reigning Mrs. South Carolina International, in a Cookies-for-Kids Cancer program that Boutwell said in three years has raised more than $130,000. There are more than 1,600 bows around York County.
At age 46, it would be understandable if McConaughy wanted to focus on herself and her family. But she doesn’t. Her mission is to help others who have to go through transplants, to fight cancer in kids and anybody else, to live a life to the fullest every day that helps other people.
“I appreciate every day, and want others to have that ‘every day’ ” McConaughy said. “I didn’t know I would live to be this old. I have no complaints. I don’t take a lot for granted.”
The courage of a lady such as McConaughy is that she doesn’t just celebrate her own life – she threw a huge shindig to celebrate 20 years a heart transplant survivor – but that she wants all those who are sick like she was, or sick like her son who passed away was, to have celebrations.
So she volunteers with Donate Life America to try and educate others about organ donation.
“Organ donation saves lives – I am right here because of it,” she said. “It is that simple. It takes people, and parents, and families to have the courage to do it. I am a testament to that courageous decision that every organ donor and their family makes.”
The simple truth is Andrea McConaughy wants every person to have a life.
But courage takes heart. McConaughy sure has a heart. It came from Michael, and she shares that heart with everyone she meets, because it beats still.