Employee Spotlight: Peggy Coleman

Two-time heart transplant recipient and donor advocate celebrates her 34th year with Brown & Brown Insurance

April is National Donate Life Awareness month. Did you know that one organ donor can save the lives of up to eight people?

Transplant statistics are staggering…close to 200,000 men, women, and children are on the national transplant waiting list. Over 30,000 transplants were performed in 2015 (about 80 a day) including Heart, Lung, Kidney, Pancreas & Liver Transplants. Even then, 22 people die each day waiting for a transplant. Every 10 minutes, another person is added to the waiting list but only three in 1000 people die in a way that allows for organ donation, which contributes to the growing waitlist.

A success story is our own Peggy Coleman, a two-time heart transplant recipient. She’s been part of the Brown & Brown pack for 34 years, and in the insurance industry since 1977, when she decided to change career paths because she “wanted an office job”. Brown & Brown is very happy she made that choice!

A group close to Peggy’s heart is Donate Life OC, where she participates in the annual Run/Walk in honor of her donors Hope and Kristen.

This year’s event will be held on April 29th, and we’d love to see you there. If you are interested in participating, contact donatelifeoc.org. You can even join Peggy’s team: Gary Foxen Gift of Heart. 

Peggy’s story…

In 1994, Peggy, happily married with two kids ages 9 and 14, started not feeling well. Although her heart would beat rapidly at times, she honestly thought she just had the flu. A few days passed and not feeling better, decided she needed to go to urgent care.

The doctor performed an EKG, looked at her mother-in-law, who had driven her, and said “I need you to remain calm, but you need to drive her to the emergency room at St. Jude’s right now”. Peggy walked herself into the emergency room and passed out. She was in cardiac arrest.

Though it would take several months to learn the reason for her heart failure, she was on the path to her first heart transplant.

Peggy transferred to UCLA where she spent nine weeks recovering enough to be accepted into the transplant program, with part of that time in a medically induced coma to bring her strength up. Because she had been so sick, she wasn’t aware of all the details or what she’d have to endure but what she did know was that she was a mom and wanted to get home to her children. Part of the program process is to pair potential recipients with recipients, so Peggy received a visit from Patsy, a young mother who had received a new heart six months prior, and her husband. They shared with her their story and showed Peggy she would not be an invalid. Peggy never thought she wouldn’t make it. She received “the call” that a heart was available while waiting in the hospital. Chris, her husband, had just left the hospital and was called back for The Event.

On September 11, 1994, Peggy became the 489th person to receive a heart transplant at UCLA. The program was just 10 years old at the time.

After the transplant, Peggy and her family finally learned why she’d been so sick. She’d had a rare sarcoid cyst inside her heart, causing her heart to malfunction. Going to urgent care that day, because she thought she had the flu, played a huge role in saving her life.

Peggy was sent home seven days after her transplant, and was back at work within six months. Unfortunately, at her six-week check-up, her doctor informed her that due to the drugs and medications she had to take, he was seeing signs of transplant coronary artery disease, and a year after her transplant, a stent was put in.

Peggy never met her donor family, although she did reach out. She named her first heart donor Hope, because that is what the transplant had given her. And for 10.5 years, she raised her family, worked and was active with her support group.

Then she started fainting. Her heart was stopping.

Her doctor performed an angiogram and she was informed that she’d need a second heart transplant. A pacemaker was put in and Peggy went through the physical and psychological testing process again to be added to the Transplant Waiting List. She was told it might take up to two years, so she spent time with her family, worked and waited.

When the hospital called to offer her a new heart, after only 5 months, her husband got so excited, he hung up the phone! Fortunately, they called back and Peggy had her second transplant on February 24, 2005. And this time she did, eventually, have some correspondence with her donor Kristen’s husband.

It’s important to remember, Peggy shares, that there are two sides to every transplant story. The one where the recipient lives and the one where the donor does not. You have to let the donor family grieve. Peggy appreciates the gift of life, and tries to do well by it every day.

Peggy doesn’t talk about what she’s been through for personal gain. Being a two-time transplant recipient shaped her life but does not define it. Aside from regular medication and check-ups, she lives her life like everyone else. “It’s part of you but not all of you”, she shares.

Although it was traumatic and difficult for her family in the beginning, especially since her children were so young, it brought them all closer. She’s convinced her daughter became a nurse because of what she went through.

Because of Peggy’s strong network of family and friends who supported her before, during and after her transplant, she and her husband give back and are advocates for education and promotion of donation.

They’ve participated with speaking engagements at hospitals, churches, support groups, and the American Heart Association. She and her husband facilitate the A Gift of Heart transplant support group and participate in the Donate Life Run Walk, an event that has grown from 900 participants to over 12,000.

Peggy views her transplants as her chance at life. She was given the opportunity to raise her children, see them get married, and have children of their own. Being a grandmother is a precious gift.

In addition to living her life, her goal is to debunk the fears and myths surrounding donation and transplants and to show that donation works.

She’s living proof.

For more information, please visit these websites:

  • http://donatelifeoc.org/ – A non-competitive 5K/1K Run/Walk to educate and inspire the community about organ and tissue donation while benefiting the OneLegacy Foundation.
  • https://www.donatelife.net/ – Donate Life is an organization dedicated to assisting donor families, they are “committed to increasing the number of donated organs, eyes and tissue available for transplant to save and heal lives”.
  • http://www.agiftofheart.org – Peggy and her husband are active members. This group’s mission is to provide support, compassion and understanding to those in our community who have been touched by organ donation, either as organ donors, donor families, transplant recipients or those who wait for their donor angel to arrive.
  • https://www.organdonor.gov – U.S. Government Information on Organ Donation and Transplantation.
*Statistics sourced from organdonor.gov