Cherron Gilmore spent eight years fighting to get on the transplant list for a new heart, even writing goodbye letters to her family in what she believed were her final days.
Then, in October, the 37-year-old mom of three got a new heart.
“In August, [doctors] told me they were going to let me go. All I could think about was how I was going to tell my kids that I wouldn’t be here anymore,” Gilmore tells PEOPLE, adding that she was told she was “going to die.” “When I got my transplant, I woke up feeling like a whole new person. Now, life is new! Mommy’s back!”
It all started in 2010 when Gilmore, of Winston-Salem North Carolina was pregnant with her third child, Khori Gilmore (now 8 years old).
She was seven months pregnant when doctors diagnosed her with peripartum cardiomyopathy, a rare form of heart failure that develops late in a pregnancy or after giving birth, according to the American Heart Association.
“I was scared. I had never heard of this disease. I didn’t know what to expect,” she recalls, adding that she feared for her unborn daughter’s life. “I told the doctor, ‘If it’s me or her, make sure you save her.’ The room was pandemonium.”
She gave birth to Khori three months early, and the newborn weighed only three pounds.
Gilmore says doctors expected her heart condition to improve, but the illness consumed her life for the next eight years.
“Thing got progressively worse after that,” she tells PEOPLE. “The hardest part was my absence. There was a lot of guilt that comes along with not being able to go to the back-to-school nights because you’re sick, or parent-teacher conferences because you’re sick.”
Gilmore went to four different hospitals in North Carolina over the next few years, desperately trying to make it onto the transplant list.
She was turned down four times, with several doctors giving various reasons including Gilmore’s weight, her being too sick, her not being “sick enough,” not having a large “support” system and even two of her children having different fathers.
“One of the excuses was they didn’t think I was a good candidate because of antibodies, [the doctor] said when you have children with multiple men, you get their antibodies and they get yours and it makes it harder for you to find a match for a transplant,” Gilmore recalls.
“I felt like I was blackballed. Nobody wanted to touch me. There was absolutely nothing I could do on my end to get anyone to say ‘let’s list her.’ All I ever wanted to do was to be here to raise my kids. I was fighting to be a mother to my kids.”
Gilmore spent nearly two weeks on life support — from last August to early September — after doctors at a North Carolina hospital told her there was nothing they could do for her. Before that, Gilmore feared the worst and wrote goodbye letters to her children, Cheyne Gray, 17, Khori Gilmore, 8, and Gian Gilmore, 13.
“My daughter, I assumed she would be 18 when her dad would give her the letter,” she recalls. “I wrote that I was sorry that I wasn’t able to be there for her. I told her that I never gave up, but my body did. It was pep talks for each of my kids, encouraging them.”
Then, something wonderful happened.
Doctors at the VCU Health Pauley Heart Center in Richmond, Virginia, learned of Gilmore’s condition and agreed to help her. On Sept. 18, she was placed on the transplant list and, just weeks later, the devoted mom learned she would have a new heart.
“It’s a shame that I had to go to another state to get what I needed. But I’m grateful to VCU. I’m still amazed at how fast everything fell into place. It’s been eight years and I’m in awe.”