Transplant Gives Cooperstown Woman
New Life After Battling Lyme Disease
By LIBBY CUDMORE • Special to www.AllOTSEGO.com
COOPERSTOWN – In March, after suffering debilitating heart conditions brought on by Lyme Disease six years before, Mary Margaret Sohns had a vision.
“I saw a big white box with a ribbon around it,” she said. “And I heard the theme from ‘The Golden Girls’.”
Her husband Matt came into the room with the phone in his hand. “He said it was for me, and that it was from Newark Beth Israel Medical Center,” she said. “They had a heart for me.”
And at 3 a.m. on March 3, after a surgery that took three hours, Sohns had a new heart.
“There is no way to thank a person for a gift that is priceless,” she said. “The donor not only helped me, but their lungs, kidneys, liver and other salvageable organs went to other people.”
On Sunday, Oct. 6, Sohns and her family walked in the “Heart & Sole” walk in New Jersey, raising $17,490 for the transplant team at Beth Israel. “The original goal was $5,000, but we surpassed that. Then $10,000, and we beat that, then $15,000, and we beat that!” she said.
Even daughter Maggie chipped in, raising $333 – a number that echoes the date and time that gave her back her mother. “She started to cry at the end of the walk because she was so happy her mommy was alive,” Sohns said.
She also invited to a dinner at the Global Lyme Alliance Gala on Thursday, Oct. 10, in New York City, along with her friend Brenda Michaels, Fly Creek Cider Mill co-owner, who also lives with Lyme Disease. Brenda’s brother, Charlie Palmer, was the chef for the evening.
In 2013, Sohns started experiencing “a myriad” of symptoms. “My vision went, I had cramping, I was irritable, I couldn’t sleep and I had issues with depth perception,” she said. “I went from running marathons to being unable to push a shopping cart or walk up to Stagecoach without stopping.”
Though she doesn’t remember ever getting a tick bite, she was diagnosed with Lyme Carditis, a rare condition when the Lyme bacteria enters the heart. “It’s typically reversible if you catch it between 45-60 days,” she said. “But because it took so long for me to get diagnosed, it wasn’t reversible.”
Though the got a pacemaker, she suffered from several setbacks, including a wire hitting her atrium. “I was chewing up pacemaker batteries,” she said. “I was having episodes where I would feel things like weather in my heart.”
She had several episodes in front of her daughter, Maggie. “I could feel it coming, so I told Maggie that if I went to the ground, to go get my medicine,” she said.
Finally, she was seen by a pulmonologist. “She couldn’t understand how I was still breathing with so few heartbeats,” she said. “She told me I should have had a new heart two years ago. I didn’t realize how bad it was; I just kept hoping I would get better.”
By March 2019, she had lost all hope. “I tried to smile and go about things,” she said. “But I kept telling Matt, ‘This is it.’”
But since her heart transplant, she’s made it her mission to educate local people about Lyme Disease.
“We are in Ground Zero for Lyme,” she said. “If you have symptoms, you need to see a Lyme-literate physician. Failure to diagnose or incomplete treatment means that your body still thinks there’s an aggravating organism, so it attacks your brain, your liver, your heart, your kidneys. There’s no-one-size-fits-all treatment.”
Because she didn’t see the tell-tale bullseye most people associate with a tick bite, she notes that anyone with symptoms like she had should see a doctor immediately. “A simple medication at the right time might have changed my life,” she said.
She also wants to remind people to make sure they sign up to be organ donors. “I can no longer be around sick people, so I can’t go back to being a pharmacist,” she said. “But I want to help people realize what a wonderful gift they can give by donating their organs.”
She has not yet met the family of her donor, although she hopes to.
“How do I thank that person?” she said. “I live my lfe and help others learn.”