Total Strangers Reach out to Help Transplant Patient

July 13, 2010

The following article is from the News & Record in Greensboro, NC.

Michelle Matthews’ life changed forever when she had a massive heart attack in her kitchen on New Year’s Eve.

Since then, the 41-year-old Burlington woman has been struggling to survive while awaiting a heart transplant. Family and friends have helped her, but she was stunned when a pair of strangers stepped in to help her with medical bills.

Robert and Pamela Anderson, with the support of their church, have organized a July 17 golf tournament and fundraiser.

“I was really just absolutely shocked because they were strangers in my life,” Matthews said. “I am very thankful.”

Robert Anderson heard about Matthews’ situation through Charlotte Cox, a co-worker at Acutote in Graham. Cox, Matthews’ friend and roommate, has helped care for her.

“It just kind of evolved,” said Pamela Anderson of Burlington. “My husband and I are Christians, and we want to help those in need.”

Matthews was laid off three months before her heart attack and is too sick to work. The left side of her heart was destroyed.

“It looks like a bear has clawed the left side of my heart,” she said.

A battery-operated left ventricular-assist device is keeping her heart pumping until the transplant. She has been told her chances of getting a new heart are good, but she’ll face at least $12,000 in medical expenses in the two years following the transplant — and that’s if she can keep her medical insurance.

Despite the challenges, Matthews remains optimistic.

“I’m praying,” she said. “I believe that God has played a huge part in what has happened in my life.”

Matthews is looking forward to regaining her independent lifestyle and spending many more years with her 21-year-old son, who took a hiatus last semester from his studies at West Virginia University in Parkersburg to care for her.

The Andersons are working with the National Foundation for Transplants to promote the golf tournament. NFT is a nonprofit organization based in Memphis, Tenn., that helps patients raise money to pay for transplant-related expenses. The organization will pay the cost of renting the golf course.

St. Luke’s United Methodist Church will provide lunch at the end of the tournament.

The Andersons still need players and sponsors for the event.

They’re hoping for 18 teams (72 players).

Matthews plans to help as much as she can at the golf fundraiser in Mebane. She said she hopes the event will remind people about the importance of organ donation. “If you can have the opportunity to save somebody’s life, why wouldn’t you want to do that for somebody?” she said.