O’FALLON, Ill. — A school superintendent in the Metro East said she owes her life to a new friend that she calls “Tank.”
It’s been11 months since Darcy Benway, the Superintendent of O’Fallon Township High School District 203, underwent heart transplant surgery.
“When I was transplanted, I made a vow that I was going to remember my donor,” she said. “So, I named my heart ‘Tank.’ It seemed like we had just been through a war together. Tank seemed appropriate.”
Benway, 57, has been a superintendent in O’Fallon for 15 years — but her 14th year was nearly her last.
Last spring, the healthy and fit mother of two and former collegiate champion swimmer at the University of Kansas was working from a Barnes-Jewish Hospital bed, connected to a machine working in the place of her dying heart.
Dr. Joel Schilling, the medical director of Washington University and Barnes-Jewish Transplant Center’s heart program, put her on the transplant list after medications failed to correct a rare, deadly form of heart inflammation called Giant Cell Myocarditis.
“She was able to get her heart within three days of listing, which was important because she was on a very temporary support system, which doesn’t last but a week or two at most to keep someone alive,” Schilling said.
After the six-hour surgery, the medical team gave Benway a read-out of Tank beating inside of her. They let her listen through a stethoscope.
“It was,” Dr. Benway said, pausing to hold back tears, “probably the best sound I ever heard in my life at that point.”
The Washington University and Barnes-Jewish Transplant Center’s heart program is the only heart transplant center in the St. Louis region and one of nation’s busiest.
“To see folks come from as close to death as you can possibly be and then six months later, they’re living a normal life. That’s pretty amazing to witness. It’s part of the blessing of getting to do what I do,” Schilling said.
The medical team performs 40-50 heart transplants and sustains life in another 50 plus heart patients through the use of mechanical devices every year, Schilling said.
Benway, who grew up in Edwardsville, is now training to resume 5K runs and planning for her son’s wedding this summer thanks to Tank.
“’Tank and I now do everything together,” she smiled. “I would not be sitting here talking to you today if it weren’t for Tank. I wouldn’t be here.”
Benway called the Washington University and Barnes-Jewish medical team her “angels.”
“When she told me that was the name all I could do was smile,” Schilling said. “I said that’s a great name for this heart. Let’s keep Tank going well into the future.”
Benway called her donor her hero.
“I know that person was a separate and distinct individual from who I am, who is now a part of me,” Benway said. “They’re heroes. They are the miracles that make like happen for so many people. We need more people to be organ donors. There’s a lot of people waiting.”
She has no information about the donor. She granted an interview to FOX 2 News on one condition: that we share organ donor websites to encourage more people to give the gift of life.