How Friendship Helped Save a 50-Year-Old Woman's Life During Her Second Heart Transplant: 'We Felt Our Power'
A group of nine female friends came to Amy Silverstein’s side while she awaited her second heart transplant at age 50, more than two decades after her first. As Silverstein describes in her new memoir, My Glory Was I Had Such Friends, their friendship is the reason she is alive today.
“I had the opportunity to see what friendship is like at 50 and what friendship is like at 25,” Silverstein tells PEOPLE. “During my first transplant, I was in the hospital for two months, and almost none of my friends came.”
When Silverstein was a 25-year-old student at NYU Law School in 1988, she received a heart transplant from a 13-year-old girl after she experienced heart failure. The transplanted heart was only expected to last about a decade, but it lasted almost triple that, right up to around her 50th birthday in 2014 when—for the second time in her life—her heart would fail.
When news spread amongst friends that Silverstein was at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles awaiting word if a transplant would become available, they flew in from around the country to be by her side. It was an undertaking—they called off work, and asked friends and family to watch their children. Some were driven by a feeling of regret for not being with Silverstein during her first transplant.
Though many of Silverstein’s friends were strangers to each other, they would all bond in the coming weeks by her bedside. To help Silverstein’s husband, Jill Dresner, Silverstein’s best friend, devised a spreadsheet that delegated which of the nine friends would be on duty to keep Silverstein company. She sent nightly emails so everyone knew what was needed next.
Still, Silverstein wasn’t sure she wanted to go through with the transplant. For 25 years, there were countless ER visits and dozens of heart biopsies, and a double mastectomy followed by a breast cancer diagnosis just a month-and-a-half before finding out her second heart was failing. “It was really a choice whether to go for it because I had almost 26 really sick years of transplant life, they were not good,” she says. “They were gratefully lived, but transplant life isn’t easy, and I wasn’t well.”
Silverstein says the added company of her friends “tipped the scales” to her wanting the transplant, and it became a matter of keeping her alive until one came in. “Every time a friend came, it really felt like we were saying goodbye,” she says. “We didn’t speak it out loud, but we knew how sick I was getting and the clock was ticking.”
As the weeks passed at Cedars-Sinai, Silverstein’s friends would shower her, brush her hair, stroke her back, rub her feet and sleep on a cot next to her bed, creating an unbroken chain of companionship day after day, night after night, to keep her strong.
Finally, after two months, the news came that doctors had found a heart. Unbelievably, like her first transplant, it would come from another 13-year-old girl.
Today, Silverstein is eating healthily, running three times a week and doing kettlebell workouts — all at 53-years old. There isn’t a day that goes by that she doesn’t think about the heart that was given to her, the child it came from and the friends who helped to lift her when she needed it the most. “We have all become, in our 50-year-old selves, powerful women,” she says. “We felt our power in that hospital room, and we were able to use it together this way towards this end goal.”
My Glory Was I Had Such Friends was recently acquired by J.J. Abrams’ production company for a limited television series. Silverstein also wrote a book about her first transplant, Sick Girl.
“Older women, invest and recognize what these years have brought you in terms of your ability and your capacities to be a great friend,” Silverstein says. “Just show up, and when you do, amazing things can happen.”
Three hearts and two transplants later, Silverstein is all the proof you need.