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A heart full of gratitude for the gift of life

Mary Whisenddand

Mary Whisennand was only 39 when she was diagnosed with a progressive weakening of the heart muscle.

Within three years, her condition had deteriorated to the point that she needed a new heart.

Determined to live long enough to see her then-16-year-old daughter Tammie graduate from high school, Mary and her husband, Jim, moved to Wichita from their rural Elkhart, Kansas, home so that she could be put on the waiting list. One month and three days later, she became one of the first seven patients to receive a new heart at what today is Ascension Via Christi St. Francis in Wichita.

“At that time, surviving for five years was a really big deal,” says Mary, who subsequently moved back to Elkhart and with her family shared in a number of milestones: Tammie’s graduation and marriage to her high school sweetheart, Brian; a 25th anniversary cruise to the Caribbean with Jim; and the births of  grandsons Austin and Lance.

After Jim died in 2001, Mary subsequently moved to Madison, Mississippi, to be close to Tammie and her family. 

On Feb. 12, 2017, she celebrated two more family milestones: 30 years with her new heart and watching Austin graduate from high school.

“I use a walker for mobility, but I’m still independent and able to care for myself,” says the now 73-year-old Mary, who has since returned to Elkhart and lives in the assisted living facility she helped get started in the early ‘80s.

Mary’s new goal is to beat the world record of surviving 34 years and 261 days with the same transplanted heart while continuing to keep hers full of gratitude for having received the gift of life.

Says Mary with a laugh: “I’m competitive and stubborn.”

Did you know?

Through Via Christi’s partnership with the Midwest Transplant Network, we help save and enhance the lives of people like Mary each and every year through organ, tissue and eye donation.

Last year, our service area, which includes all of Kansas and the western two-thirds of Missouri, had 245 organ donors, who provided 816 lifesaving transplants, and 1,330 eye and tissue donors.

Approximately 500 Kansans currently are on the waiting list for an organ transplant. Every 10 minutes someone is added to the national transplant waiting list. Of those, most are awaiting a kidney transplant. One tissue donor can save or enhance the lives of up to 75 recipients.

What can I do?

Join the seven out of 10 adults in Kansas who have already done so and go to to register as a lifesaving and healing donor. While Kansas is ranked 13th in the nation for registered donors, our neighboring state of Missouri has three out of every four adults in its registry and is ranked 7th.

You can complete the registration online, when renewing your driver’s license at the Department of Motor Vehicles by informing them of your decision to be a donor, and via the Apple iPhone Hleath app (iOS 10).   

About Roz Hutchinson

Roz Hutchinson is a Wichita wife, mother and chief spoiler of six grandkids and three Chihuahuas, a die-hard women's basketball fan, and director of Communications and Public Relations for Ascension Via Christi.