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Heart transplant recipient is Seton Hill grad, organ donation advocate

Stephen Huba
| Monday, May 14, 2018, 4:24 p.m.
Brittany Grimm, 22, of Greensburg, speaking at the 2017 spring carnival at Seton Hill University about organ donation and organ transplant awareness.
Dan Speicher | Tribune-Review
Brittany Grimm, 22, of Greensburg, speaking at the 2017 spring carnival at Seton Hill University about organ donation and organ transplant awareness.
Brittany Grimm, 22, of Greensburg after graduating from Seton Hill University.
Submitted
Brittany Grimm, 22, of Greensburg after graduating from Seton Hill University.
Brittany Grimm's graduation cap bore a special message on Saturday.
Submitted
Brittany Grimm's graduation cap bore a special message on Saturday.

Brittany Grimm is a graduate with gratitude.

Eleven years after receiving a heart transplant, the Erie native graduated from Seton Hill University on Saturday with a bachelor's degree in communications and a specialty in advocacy media.

On the top of her graduation cap was the message "I am here today because of an organ donor."

She's already using her degree advocating for the importance of organ donations.

"It's everything I ever dreamed of," she said.

Grimm, 22, of Greensburg is a communications intern at the Center for Organ Recovery & Education in Fox Chapel. CORE is one of the two main organ procurement organizations in Pennsylvania and one of 58 in the United States.

Organizations such as CORE help facilitate organ donations by encouraging people to register as donors and educating the public about the organ donation process.

"We are the link between the donor family and the recipient," she said.

Wherever she speaks, Grimm's message is personal. "Without those donors signing up, I wouldn't be here today," she said.

Grimm started having heart troubles when she was 9 years old and became sick with pneumonia. A chest X-ray revealed an enlarged heart – a symptom of restrictive cardiomyopathy, a disease in which the heart does not pump blood properly and for which there is no cure.

Doctors monitored her for two years and then put her on a list for a heart transplant, which she received on May 4, 2007, at Children's Hospital of Pittsburgh of UPMC. Her heart, which was three times its normal size, was replaced by the heart of a 31-year-old man who had suffered a massive seizure.

Grimm does not know the identity of the man but has written letters of gratitude that have been forwarded to his family.

Today, the 5-foot-tall woman has a 12-inch scar that is barely visible. Although she takes medicine to prevent her body's rejection of the heart, she is physically active and recently had the dosage reduced.

Grimm is literally the poster child for organ donation in Pennsylvania, appearing on promotional brochures at PennDOT centers and in campaign videos for Donate Life PA.

She hopes that her advocacy work will result in more people signing up to be organ donors – only 46 percent of Pennsylvanians with a driver's license or state ID have indicated their willingness to donate an organ or tissue – and in the shortening of the organ transplant waiting lists.

Stephen Huba is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at 724-850-1280, shuba@tribweb.com or via Twitter @shuba_trib.

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