Jackson enjoyed new lease on life

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, April 29, 2003

Eunice "Suzie" Jackson got a new lease on life in 1985 and it lasted her much longer than anyone expected.

Back in the summer of 1985, friends and relatives of Jackson were worried she might not make it one more day. Her "bad cold" had lingered for two years and suddenly, out of the blue, she was diagnosed with a heart condition that threatened her life.

After receiving a heart transplant at age 40, Jackson stunned observers by living another 18 years with another person's heart pumping blood through her body. She passed away Friday at the age of 58, but those who knew her well say she packed a lot of life into those extra years.

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"She was something else," said her sister, Henrietta Thomas. "She was such a fighter and was just determined to go on."

Jackson had been a hair stylist in Pike County for 14 years when the community became aware of her health problems. Originally thought to be a lung infection, the gravity of her situation became known when doctors said that a virus had infected her heart, causing it to swell.

"It was just a matter of time before her heart just totally stopped," Thomas said.

Jackson moved to Birmingham to stay with an aunt and to be closer to the hospitals where she was making regular visits, but friends and relatives back in Pike County swung into action.

Articles from The Messenger in that summer of 1985 attest to the fund-raising drives held to raise the $100,000 needed for the operation.

"The whole community, white and black, really came together with donations," Thomas said. "She worked at Wilma's Beauty Shop and they were all really active in helping raise money."

Though the operation on July 11 ended Jackson's career at the beauty shop - the chemicals would have hindered her recovery, Thomas said, that's about the only thing that stopped when she returned to Troy on July 26.

"She would just cook all day and she loved her grandchildren. All the neighbors would come over after church and eat and she we keep doing things around the house."

Jackson continued to whip up batches of chicken and dumplings and peach cobbler and was barely slowed by the operation at all.

"I'm proud of that scar," she told The Messenger upon her return to Troy in July 1985.

"She loved to sew," Thomas said. "She could sew anything: clothes, wedding dresses, anything."

The amazement of friends and relatives began to set in after she survived for several years after the operation. But at the 10 year anniversary of the transplant, even area doctors began to take notice of what was becoming a remarkable success story.

"The doctors used to ask her how she had lived so long and done so well," Thomas said. "She'd tell them that God was responsible. Those doctors said that God didn't do her surgery, but she said the He had guided their hands."

Her faith stayed with her through the entire ordeal, Thomas said.

"When she found out she was going to have to have the operation, she wasn't worried at all. She was reassuring the rest of us and telling us she was in God's hands. We all thought she must be in shock."

But her optimism maintained, right up until the end of her life last week. Though she had been feeling some pain in her legs, Jackson was determined to keep getting around. She even made a visit to the Goshen High School Senior Prom to see her granddaughter at the lead-out ceremonies.

Though she eventually passed away last Friday, Jackson was appreciative of the second chance at life provided by modern medicine and the love of a community. When asked what she planned to do upon her return to Troy after the operation, Jackson replied, "Just look at the world and be thankful."

Thomas said that whenever somebody asked how she lived so long after the transplant, Jackson would just smile and say "God's just not ready for me yet."

On Friday, after enriching the lives of her family and loved ones for an additional 18 years longer than anyone thought possible, God must have finally been ready.