Second Act: Heart Transplant Survivor Shines As International Award-Winning Athlete.

When it comes to life, Janet Dennis seems to live by the best principles: Live it. Love it. Give it.

The Philadelphia woman takes nothing for granted, and as a heart transplant survivor, she took her second chance at life and turned it into gold—literally.

Janet is a world-traveling athlete who has earned more than 50 gold medals. After her heart transplant in 2005, she learned about the Donate Life Transplant Games of America and thrived in several events. She has competed in swimming, shot put, discus, javelin, and long jump.

“I would not believe at 67, I’m still doing the long jump,” Janet said.

Janet says before the life-saving surgery her life was pretty predictable. She was a social worker for 35 years, she walked to work and even swam regularly. However, she began experiencing an extremely elevated heart rate. Doctors also discovered fluid in her lungs. 

Despite receiving a pacemaker and a defibrillator, her heart disease progressed. Ultimately she had to be hospitalized until she could receive a life-saving transplant.

“They said a virus attacked my heart and put me in heart failure, which made no sense to me,” she said. “I never had been sick. The last time I was in the hospital was the day I was born. You’re telling me I need a new heart?”

In 2005 Janet got the new heart she needed, and she celebrates the gift of life by giving back to others. She is a motivational speaker, a chaplain, and a determined athlete who has traveled internationally to Sweden, South Africa, and Argentina for the World Transplant Games. The really cool part: Janet thanks her donor family by mailing them her medals. This small gesture of gratitude serves as a reminder that her new ability to thrive would not be possible without the donation of their loved one.

Since her retirement, Janet has stayed active in her community and beyond. She became a full-time volunteer ambassador with the Gift of Life Donor Program, a program that coordinates the recovery of organs and tissues for transplant. She is also a speaker for the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania, inspiring patients on the transplant waitlist to stay strong throughout their health journey.

More than anything, Janet is committed to raising awareness about the ongoing and critical need for more people to register to become organ and tissue donors.

“It’s important that people understand that being an organ and tissue donor is about helping to save lives,” she says. “If they saw people who were waiting and knew their struggles, I think they would choose to help.”

Janet is certainly grateful that someone chose to not only help her, but give her a second chance at life. 

Share this story with your friends to remind them that second chances can create new beginnings.

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