For 20 Years, Lung Transplant Recipient Said Thanks With Roses

From establishing a transplant support group to planting rose bushes, Bev Cherwinski has embraced her second chance at life.

5:24 PM

Author | Helen Korneffel

Family outside
Bev Cherwinski, at center, with her family at a rose bush planting.

Twenty years ago, Bev Cherwinski's lung transplant took her from just existing to living again.

Cherwinski, who is now 75, received a new left lung via transplant on May 5, 1999.

In the 20 years since she has given back to organizations that helped her gain new life by organizing rose bush planting ceremonies with Gift of Life Michigan.

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Traveling from her home in Vanderbilt, Mich., to hospitals across the state, she plants rose bushes to honor the sacrifice donors and families have made to give someone in need a second chance at life.

On June 14, Cherwinski will celebrate her final rose bush planting ceremony at Michigan Medicine, the hospital where she received her transplant.

Embracing second chance at life

Her parents were both carriers of a gene that causes Alpha-1 antitrypsin deficiency, a genetic disorder that may cause lung and liver disease.  For her, the disorder caused lung degeneration and, most especially, extreme shortness of breath.  

"At that time, it was a struggle to walk, do dishes or really anything," Cherwinski says. "I had so many things I wanted to do but couldn't because I was simply unable to breathe."

SEE ALSO Deeply Breathing in Life after Double Lung Transplant

In 1994, she decided to inquire about qualifying as a lung transplant candidate and to be put on the transplant list. The decision took thoughtful consideration.

"Despite being afraid (about what would happen next), I knew that I would want to meet my grandkids," she says. "Now when I see them I know I made the right decision."

During the process of waiting for her new lung, Cherwinski established the Transplant Support Group of Northern Michigan – Gaylord.  Cherwinski and the bi-monthly group provide insight and advice to those searching for answers about transplantation.

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"Every time we meet, I learn something new," she says. "It's a great help to have someone to talk through things you may not want to talk to a doctor about." 

At age 55, Cherwinski received a new left lung at the University of Michigan Transplant Center and was given the second chance that she dreamed about.

She was home from the hospital seven days after the transplant.

"After I recovered from the procedure, I went from existing to living again," she says. "I had a spring in my step and wanted to give back to the process that helped me get to where I am today."

Planting hope

Cherwinski connected with Gift of Life Michigan, the state's only federally designated organ and tissue recovery program that provides all services necessary for organ donation to occur in Michigan. 

"Bev is a dedicated and passionate volunteer, and we have been so lucky to have her these past 20 years," says Kim Zasa, Gift of Life Michigan volunteer coordinator. "She is willing to go above and beyond, and it takes a special kind of person to do what she does."

SEE  ALSO  Why Organ Donation Matters

In connection with the non-profit, Cherwinski has visited Michigan hospitals to honor the generosity of organ donors and provide hope to the 2,997 Michigan patients waiting for a transplant.

"It's been 20 years in the making, and I couldn't have asked for anything more," Cherwinski says. "I am proud to have been a part of something that gives back to those who need it most."

With her journey of rose bush planting ceremonies coming to an end, she wanted to recognize those who have helped her along the way, especially those at Michigan Medicine.

"The doctors, nurses, social workers and just everyone at UM are wonderful," she says. "I couldn't be happier with the care I have received over the years."  

Michigan Medicine Director of Lung Transplantation Kevin Chan, M.D., is currently one of Cherwinski's physicians. He understands the importance of organ donation and appreciates the amount of commitment Cherwinski has shown toward Gift of Life Michigan and its mission.

"Bev has touched so many lives over her lifetime, and it is gratifying to see one of my patients thrive after all of these years," Chan says. "To transplant recipients, one or two years is a lifetime, and when they receive an organ from a donor, their lives are completely transformed."

As Cherwinski celebrates her last rose bush ceremony, she will have her three grandchildren and family by her side.

More Articles About: Health Management Lungs and Breathing Lung Transplant Transplant
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