Ginger and her Anesthesiologist in the pre-op area just before going in for surgery - giving the "good to go" thumbs up

Ginger and her anesthesiologist in the pre-op area just before going in for surgery – giving the “good to go” thumbs up

Ginger Zimmerman has a new heart at last.

The longtime American Heart Association volunteer, who was on the transplant wait list for nearly nine months, learned Friday that a donor heart had been found. After testing confirmed the heart would be a good match, Ginger underwent transplant surgery Saturday night.

“With reverence and gratitude I’m so pleased to let you know that a heart has been found to save my life!!” Zimmerman told friends on her Facebook page on Saturday morning.

The surgery was successful and Zimmerman was recovering in intensive care, said her longtime friend Carrie McMahon.

She woke briefly on Sunday, but is being kept under sedation as she heals. Her recovery is expected to take several weeks. Doctors have said she could be released from the hospital in as little as two weeks if things go smoothly, McMahon said.

This was the second heart transplant for Zimmerman, 49, who first received a donor heart 16 years ago, following an infection.

Zimmerman developed cardiac allograft vasculopathy. The disease, also called transplant coronary artery disease, causes a narrowing of the arteries, making it difficult for the blood to pass through. It affects the smallest arteries first, closing off blood flow, but had moved to Zimmerman’s major arteries, requiring two stents.

Laughing as she thanks some of her nurses before going down to surgery

Laughing as she thanks some of her nurses before going down to surgery

During her wait for her second donor heart, Zimmerman’s condition worsened, as doctors worked to manage pain and impact on her other organs.

She passed the days in her room at New York-Presbyterian Hospital in New York trying to maintain her strength with light exercise, working on her artwork, teaching herself to play guitar, and visiting with friends and family.

She received hundreds of letters and cards, plus supporting messages on her Facebook page.

Nearly 4,000 people are on the heart transplant list in the United States. Each day, 21 people die while waiting for a transplant or within 30 days of being removed from the list due to a national shortage of organ  donations, according to the United Network for Organ Sharing.

Zimmerman, waited nearly nine months for her second donor heart. The median wait time for the highest priority patients awaiting a heart transplant is 79 days.

Before leaving room 354, where she lived for so many months while waiting for a heart (Right to left - Beth - friend, Ginger, Cynthia - sister, and Carrie - friend)

Before leaving room 354, where she lived for so many months while waiting for a heart

Zimmerman waited four months for her first heart transplant. She was 32 at the time, the mother of three young children. Nine days after that surgery, Zimmerman’s husband David died from an undiagnosed tear in his artery that occurred in a helicopter accident on his way to see her. She said that giving others life by donating his organs helped her cope with her own grief.

Throughout the years, Zimmerman has been an advocate for the AHA, especially women’s heart health through Go Red for Women.

Even as she waited for a new heart, Zimmerman taped a message in December for a Go Red for Women event in New York scheduled for March. McMahon confided Zimmerman had more ambitious plans.

“She wanted to be able to speak in person — after getting a new heart,” McMahon said.

McMahon said she has been impressed with Zimmerman’s perseverance.

“She has such determination and a positive attitude, it was instrumental in her beating this,” McMahon said. “She really felt that she was lucky and she was ready to wait it out. She’s definitely the strongest person I ever met.”

For more of Zimmerman’s story: