Bonnie Besonson is spending this year”s Valentine”s Day in the University Hospital, where she will go through physical therapy and receive a regimen of medication. Nonetheless, she said this is still the best Valentine”s Day she has ever had in her life because she received a very special gift.

Late last week, the 61-year-old former elementary school teacher from Grand Blanc underwent a heart transplant surgery, marking her the 500th person to receive a heart transplant at the University Hospital.

“I”ve got the ultimate heart. You can”t do any better than this,” said Besonson. “I have never had any surgery before in my life. I feel fine now, though. I am getting stronger every day.”

Besonson”s heart problem, which was diagnosed six years ago, is called idiopathic cardiomyopathy. It is a heart disorder with unknown cause that results in a weakened heart muscle condition, which then results in inefficient blood pumping.

The University Heart Transplant Program, which was launched in 1984, is in the top ten in the nation among about 140 similar programs, said Dr. Francis Pagani, the director of the program at the University. Pagani performed the surgery on Besonson.

Besonson”s transplant “wasn”t much different from many other ones. Its complication was normal for a heart transplant and there was nothing really unusual,” Pagani said.

Heart transplants are given to infants as old as a day and to patients in their 70s. Currently, there are about 70 patients at the University and more than 4,000 in the nation who are waiting for hearts. Pagani added the demand for heart is still much greater than the supply. Only about 2,000 of the 4,000 on the nationwide list have hearts to receive.

Most of the hearts that are transplanted at the University are from an organization called Transplantation Society of Michigan.

“We hope we can use this occasion to attract attention to the importance of organ donation,” Pagani said in a written statement.

“If people would write on the back of their licensees that they would become donors, it would be wonder for the program,” said Besonson.

After a full recovery, she wishes to travel with her husband.

“I am hoping that I can lead a more normal life that I wasn”t able to lead for the last six years. I wasn”t able to do more than a flight of stairs. I wasn”t able to fly. I wasn”t able to do any kind of exercise because I had shortness of breath,” Besonson said.

As for the Valentines Day, she has only one more wish.

“Anything I am hoping for (today) is some chocolate pudding in this hospital,” Besonson said.

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