BLOOMFIELD — From stock car racing to a heart transplant, Shirley Holland is the definition of a survivor.
The 74-year-old Bloomfield woman is celebrating her 25-year anniversary of receiving a heart transplant.
At the time, doctors told her the new heart might last only five years.
Holland, a mother of three, enjoyed racing stock cars long ago in Lake Geneva. When she was in her 30s, she was injured in a bad crash, suffering a broken neck and other injuries that put her in a body cast.
“I have a tough mom,” her son, Scott Holland, said. “I thank God every day for her being here.”
Originally from Minnesota, Holland later moved to Harvard, Illinois. She worked many years at TV manufacturer Admiral Corp. and later for Watlow-Orient in Richmond, Illinois, retiring in 2010.
She and her family have lived in a house on Juneau Road in Bloomfield for about 50 years.
In 1994, Holland was swimming in a pool and got sick after being stung by a horse fly. Doctors later told her that an infection related to the insect bite had reached her heart.
They diagnosed her with congestive heart failure and told her she would need a heart transplant. After she was placed on an organ donation waiting list, the transplant took place on Sept. 23, 1994, at Aurora Health Care’s St. Luke’s Medical Center in Milwaukee.
Holland recalls going back to work within a few months.
“I had no problems,” she said.
Still, doctors told her that the heart transplant in all likelihood would give her a life expectancy of about five years.
“She just beat all the odds altogether,” her daughter, Lynn Bergman, said.
At the time of the transplant, Bergman was a junior at Badger High School. When word got around about her mother’s health problems, the student council at Badger organized a dance, with all the proceeds going to help the family with its medical bills.
“A lot of the students back then were really caring kids,” Bergman said. “And they wanted to help the community that we live in.”
Holland still remembers how much it meant to her that the community extended a helping hand.
“It was wonderful and very heart-warming,” Holland said.
When the organ donation occurred around the same time as Badger’s homecoming dance, Bergman wanted to skip the dance to support her mother. Holland would not allow it, insisting that her daughter not only go to the dance.
“I just wanted to be at the hospital and be there with her,” Bergman said. “She was not going to give in, and she put me first.”
Doctors who told Holland the heart transplant would last about five years have been impressed to see their patient live another 25 years, into her 70s.
Holland has been able to experience so much more in life, as she has seen her kids and grandchildren graduate from high school. She will soon see one of her grandchildren graduate from college as well.
The experience has made her a strong advocate for organ donation.
“I am just overwhelmed by how many years I have gone through, and I just think that it is a wonderful thing out there,” she said. “I hope people realize that transplants do help save a life.”
The family recently gathered with Holland to celebrate the 25th anniversary of her transplant at Upper Crust Pizza in Bloomfield, one of her favorite restaurants.
The celebration included a special cake — shaped like a heart.
The anniversary party was a surprise party.
“We completely pulled off a surprise,” Bergman said. “She cried and said that this is life — and that we have been blessed for 25 years.”