Artist, facing life-threatening infections, has message for others about health

Ginger Zimmerman (Photo: Nate Miller)

Fairport, N.Y. – You might have said it, and no doubt you’ve heard someone say, “If you have your health, you have everything.”

If you don’t believe it, you just might after hearing Ginger Zimmerman’s story.

Zimmerman is an artist who approaches each day like a blank canvas before her.

“Every day, there’s possibilities,” she said.

Still, life is full of possibilities for a woman who has faced her own mortality - twice.

Ginger was 32 when she had her first heart transplant. Viral meningitis as a teen had taken a toll.

“It was gradually wearing me down,” said Zimmerman. “Because I had no history of heart problems, they absolutely told me it was not my heart.”

That’s when Ginger learned to advocate for herself. She also learned to be self-sufficient. Her husband, on the way to the hospital for her heart transplant, was critically injured in a helicopter crash. He died nine days later.

Ginger raised three young sons. For the American Heart Association, she urged women to take care of themselves.

Ginger’s heart lasted 17 years. Two years ago, she received a second heart.

Now, infected wires from it have left her with three potentially deadly infections.

“When I see people not taking care of themselves, it makes me sad,” she said. “I would give anything to have a healthy body again that didn’t require someone else’s heart and medication.”

Each day, Ginger takes 30 medications and has a port in her chest to dispense the drugs to fight her life-threatening infections.

She is in a rare class. Women make up just one percent of people who receive heart transplants – a procedure that comes with huge risks.

“You trade up,” she said. "You trade a heart that is deficient and will die for a heart that makes it really tough sometimes to stay alive and keep going. But it's worth it, because life is worth it."

Ginger proudly bares the scars on her chest – her canvas – as symbols of the possibilities she hope life holds.

“I’m going to go as long as I can,” she said. “I’m not gonna give up.”

Ginger has a lot to keep her going. She will be reunited with her family in Louisiana next week. In August, she will be a grandmother for the first time. And, right now, she is turning a blank canvas into a painting for her grandson.

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