Sharon Thomas was living the ideal life. She had a loving husband, two beautiful daughters, and dreams that stretched like the Arizona horizon. But then came the headaches, fatigue, and shortness of breath.

The diagnosis was Primary Pulmonary Hypertension (PPH)—a genetic disease that causes hardening of the small muscles and cells within the lungs. Sharons’ sister had passed away from this disease around 1984. Her only lifeline was a heart and double-lung transplant. However, in 1987, such procedures were rare, almost mythical. The insurance deemed a transplant of this magnitude as “experimental.” Sharon juggled motherhood, health, and a battle for survival. They had to fundraise to cover the surgery but later fought for it to be covered. As her health deteriorated, she found herself at the University Medical Center in Tucson—a place where hope and desperation collided.

On July 17, 1988, fate intervened as a gift from tragedy was presented. A high school-aged young man from Las Vegas became Sharon’s beacon of hope when he lost his life in an auto accident. His family made the selfless decision to donate his organs. Sharon’s donor saved five lives that day. His liver saved a Stanford Professor, his heart and lungs saved Sharon, his kidney and pancreas saved three others, and it is believed that his tissue and cornea were also donated.
Sharon’s heart and double lung transplant was the seventh ever (in the United States) “Domino” Transplant and was conducted at Tucson’s University Medical Center by Dr. Jack Copland. The “Domino” transplant means that Sharon’s heart that was being replaced was still healthy; it was transplanted into another on the transplant wait list. Her heart went to a Veteran who had previously served in the military for 23 years (Vietnam, Korea). He was on the list for an artificial heart when he got Sharon’s heart, this gave her the perspective of the full circle of organ donation. She was able to grant lifesaving hope to another.

Sharon’s life changed dramatically after the transplant. She was able to breathe normally, exercise, and enjoy life. She was grateful for every day and every breath. Her Transplant Surgeon at Banner was amazed that she lived as normal of a life as she did. Sharon also became an advocate for organ donation. Sharon became close with her donor’s family, and they did a public service announcement together one year post surgery about organ donation. She considered her donor her hero, and that she hoped to honor his memory by living a full and meaningful life. Sharon’s impact extends beyond her personal experience. She became an integral part of the Transplant Community Alliance (formerly known as the New Heart Society and New Life Society). Her involvement extended beyond just one role; she was the secretary, managing the intricacies of administration, and the treasurer, overseeing the funds that drive the society’s mission. As a volunteer, Sharon helped at the forefront, offering support and guidance to those navigating the challenging journey of heart transplantation. Her dedication also shines through in the newsletters she crafted, which not only informed but also inspired the community connected by the shared experience of heart transplantation. Her multifaceted contributions have undoubtedly enriched the lives of many, pre- and post-transplant. Sharon’s story inspires others to have courage today and hope for tomorrow, emphasizing the importance of organ donation in saving lives.

Sharon lived with her transplanted heart and lungs for 35 years, much longer than anyone expected. These years weren’t without their challenges. She faced complications, such as rejection episodes, infections, cancer, and a liver lobectomy. Due to the immunosuppressive medications her kidneys faltered, and she joined the kidney transplant list. Dialysis sustained her, but she yearned for another chance. She waited on dialysis, fighting on and off infections for almost 10 years before receiving her first kidney transplant. The transplant lasted a couple years. Sharon’s family stood by her side and with the news of this rejection her daughter Amy stepped forward to donate her kidney. After countless tests, it was determined that Amy did not have the PPH gene that her mother and aunt inherited. “My mom’s story became my story”, says Amy. Amy and her sister grew up around their mom being sick. Sharon never complained, in fact she contributed her hope and faith to a long and fulfilling life as a transplant patient. “Sharon would attribute her quality of life to her positive outlook and the gift God gave her “says her family.

Sharon’s story echoes across the arid Arizona landscape. To those who wait, Sharon whispers: “Courage for today, hope for tomorrow.” For she knows that life’s symphony is composed of borrowed notes—a heart, lungs, and a kidney—all playing in harmony. Sharon passed away peacefully November 17, 2023, surrounded by her loved ones. She was 68 years old. She left behind a legacy of courage, kindness, and gratitude. She touched the lives of many people and Sharon Thomas’s family, fueled by love and determination, keeps her story alive. They share her journey, not only to honor her resilience but also to inspire others. Through their unwavering commitment, they ensure that Sharon’s legacy continues—a testament to the power of love, faith, and the gift of life itself.