Transplant recipient's wife continues cycle
WHEN Mary Long struggles to pedal the last hill before Prince Charles Hospital after riding 90km, she tells herself one thing.
"They did it much more difficult than this when they gave Mal his heart."
Mary's late husband, Mal, received a heart transplant at the hospital in 2004.
Although Mal passed away from cancer in 2007, Mary continues to do the annual ride they started in 2006 as a show of appreciation to the donor, the donor's family, and the hospital.
The Buderim grandma, who goes by the nickname Queen of Hearts, has missed just one ride - to be present at the birth of her granddaughters, "Princesses" Alexandra and Kenzie.
Mary said she and Mal always wanted the donor's family to know how much the donation of their loved one's heart had meant to them.
"Everybody's different but for us, it was a gift of enormity. We just had this deep drive to give something back," she said.
Mal, who was struck down with heart problems in 1993, had struggled on in pain with a damaged heart for 11 years before he received a heart transplant.
Within two days of the operation, he was on his feet, and after 10 days they were out having a coffee at Chermside Shopping Centre.
"I could see Mal walking around, holding his hand on his chest. I asked him what was wrong and he was saying, 'I've just got such a precious gift'," Mary said.
She said a heart transplant was a mammoth journey, even when successful.
"We certainly had our ups and downs but immediately, the improved quality of life, being free of pain, and being so much more energetic and able to exercise again," she said.
"It was huge, physically, but Mal always coped well with having someone else's heart beating inside him," she said.
The heart donor and the donor's family were never far from Mary's thoughts even while Mal was undergoing the transplant.
"It's a see-saw, because you know someone else is dying, because you have life," she said.
"I had to somehow block that because I don't think I could have coped... I had to have the energy for Mal and our family's needs."
But she and Mal were quick to express their gratitude once he was back on his feet.
Within two months, they received a letter from the donor family, volunteering some information about their loved one and wishing them well.
Mary is still in contact with them today, and with many of those at Prince Charles who gave Mal a second chance at life.
Doctors told them, "You're part of our family and we're part of yours," and for Mary, that remains the case.
"They just give so much," she said.
Although the ride has grown beyond just a show of thanks to become a fundraiser by Prince Charles Hospital for heart research, Mary still rides with gratitude first and foremost in her heart.
Joining her in the ride this Sunday will be her sister, Anne Ingram, and her husband, John, who has ridden before. Mary will also have the company of Tamaryn Stevens, a young schoolteacher who received a kidney from her mother.
They will be among 800 riders who will tackle the 100km ride from Landsborough to Prince Charles, a turnout that amazes Mary.
"I never expected that it would be the ride that it is today. It's exceeded any expectations."