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Penny Eastham "Born Twice"

Penny Eastham blames "broken heart syndrome" for her heart failure. Just a year after losing her 12-year-old daughter to a terminal illness in August, 1982, Penny was in heart failure with 15 percent heart function That figure dropped to 6 percent a year later until she had her transplant in April of 1985.

"Who has time to think about it?" she asks. Mrs. Eastham is a speech pathologist with clients in a far-ranging age group. She’s very loyal to her patients and especially enjoys following the progression of her youngest students. "They grow up behind my back," she said.

 Penny Eastham (right) with Dr. Roberta Bogaev
Penny Eastham is recognized by Dr. Roberta Bogaev at the heart transplant program 25th anniversary.

"The transplant has allowed me to rear my two children. They were seven and nine at the time of my transplant. Now they’re 29 and 30. The transplant allowed me to work and put my children through college, pay for their vehicles and pay for two weddings," said Mrs. Eastham, who is eagerly awaiting the birth of her first grandchild in March.

In her rare spare time, Mrs. Eastham has enjoyed traveling with her husband of 42 years to Europe. Last summer, she hiked a mountain trail in Canada and was so proud of herself, she had to tell somebody.

"It was a beautiful, challenging forest. When I finished, I saw this one, lone victim in the parking lot and I told him, ‘I’m a heart transplant survivor and I just did that trail.’ It turned out he was the chief of staff of cardiovascular surgery at a hospital. He had never seen a transplant patient this far out. I just had the best time," said Mrs. Eastham.

These days, she is training in Pilates and getting adjusted to her vintage 1983 Wanderlodge Bluebird RV – called Camelot – which she owns with her "mechanically gifted" son.

"I’m having a real good time with that. I tell folks I have a vintage bus with a vintage driver. When I get a chance I just drive out to the park and walk and have a picnic. I haven’t hit anybody with it yet – that I know of," she laughed.

Mrs. Eastham said she looks at all the gifts she’s received and is astounded that she’s still here.

"How fortunate can you be? How do you thank someone for your life?" she asked. Mrs. Eastham and her husband, Tom, donated their daughter’s organs when she died. "When people ask me how old I am, I ask, ‘Which part?’ I was born in Austin and my donor was from Austin, so I say I was born there twice," she said.

Return to Heart Transplant Program Celebrates 25 Years

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