About Amy Umble:
Amy Umble is health reporter for The Free Lance-Star

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The night the transplant center called

Anne KirchmierAnne Kirchmier, left, had been on the heart transplant waiting list for 33 days when the call came.  It was 1:30 a.m. in August 2007.  

“Anne Kirchmier, this is the University of Virginia. We have a heart for you,” said the voice on the other end of the line.

“I don’t know what to say,” Kirchmier replied.

“You have to let us know if you want it,” the voice said.

Kirchmier, a 51-year-old resident of Spotsylvania County, asked for a few minutes to consider. She had spent 13 years with a failing heart. Now it looked like she might get a new one. She quickly called her heart doctor, John Armitage, the Fredericksburg heart surgeon.

Armitage was asleep, but when he heard that the transplant center had called, he told Kirchmier, “Get off the phone and call them right back and tell them you’re coming.”

 So Kirchmier gathered her family—husband Raymond and their three children–and drove to Charlottesville in the middle of the night.

At the hospital, she waited with loved ones for her new heart to arrive. Finally, the transplant team came into the room where everyone was waiting and said it was time. “We want everyone to join hands,” one of the nurses said.

“Dear God,” the nurse prayed, “We’re here with a mother, wife, daughter, daughter-in-law and friend. We know you’ve brought her here for a reason. We ask that you to give the surgeon the ability to take care of her and allow her to receive the gift of life.”

Kirchmier saw that her family members were crying and that their hands were shaking. But she recalled what Armitage had told her and she was calm. “You are a good candidate for a new heart,” he had said. “You will be fine.”

“I grabbed my children’s faces, each child,” she recalled. “All of them had tears in their eyes. I grabbed their faces, and I said, ‘God didn’t bring me here for 13 years to let anything happen to me right now.’ ”

"I’m not afraid," she told them. "I am going to be fine.”

And then she left them to walk to the operating room with her doctors. At the entrance to the room, the doctors  paused.  “You’re the first heart transplant we’ve ever done with someone who could walk in,” they said.

Kirchmier’s transplant went well. One measure of how well it went is the gold medal she won in August at the World Transplant Games in Australia. She set a world transplant games record in the 3K and won medals and set world records in other events as well.  And now she’s become an unofficial ambassador for organ transplantation. It really works, she said.

(The photo above was taken by Dr. Raymond Kirchmier, Anne’s husband, in August at the World Transplant Games in Australia.)

Look for a story about Kirchmier this week in the paper.