Joyce Grantham calls herself lucky.
"There's no getting around it, I was fortunate," she said.
Grantham was 59 when she worked in the radiology department of a hospital in Prince George; her medical contacts lead her to a specialist in Vancouver, who was able to help pinpoint why she had fallen ill.
"When I got sick, I ended up in emergency and the ICU a few times," she recalled. "I just got weaker and weaker." A biopsy on her heart led to a sarcoidosis diagnosis, a disease Grantham said is not easy just to stumble upon by chance.
Grantham walked every day, but said there came a point when she could only get to the end of the driveway. "It got to the stage where the neighbours were coming out to see if I was okay because I couldn't even make it to the end and back," Grantham explained.
Almost a year went by, and each day Grantham packed a phone around, having been told to always be in range and not to go too far in case an organ donation was made available.
But the long, difficult wait became a race again time.
She remembers not even being able to lay down and having to sleep sitting up so her lungs wouldn't fill with fluid.
"I reached a point where I thought 'I don't think I'm going to make it'," Grantham admitted. "The doctor even told my husband that if I didn't get a heart soon, I wasn't going to make it."
What ultimately helped Grantham receive a heart was that her small frame allowed her to receive a transplant from a man or a woman.
It was successful and she said her family instantly noticed that she looked pink and full of colour again. "I finally felt warm," she recalled.
Grantham and her husband lived in Vancouver for nearly six months; she had appointments daily and stayed near St. Paul's Hospital. "We were very fortunate. We could see the water and I would walk the seawall everyday," Grantham said.
She made it home on Christmas Eve where her three children surprised her with a decorated home for the holidays.
"I think you get a new lease on life after a transplant and approach things with more appreciation."
When she was well enough, Grantham began volunteering with the hospital's cancer ward.
She owned a white golden retriever named Reggie, who would tag along to visit patients three times a week.
"They didn't know my name," she laughed. "They knew the dog but not me. I was his assistant."
Happy to help people going through a difficult time take their mind off their problems, an email from BC Transplant caught her attention and Grantham began volunteering with the organization when they requested help.
"I would set up booth somewhere like London Drugs and get people to sign up. I would even bring Reggie along so people would come over and pet the dog and then talk to me."
Not long after, Grantham began speaking to rotary clubs, partaking in Operation Popcorn, and lending a hand wherever BC Transplant needed help.
She will turn 80 years old this year and celebrate her 22nd heart transplantaversy.
An early present for Grantham was learning that the previous year was a record-setting 12-months for heart donations. "I just think it's fantastic," she said. "It's a new life for people."
For anyone waiting to receive their transplant, Grantham instructs them to "hang in there."
"Waiting can be nerve-racking, but always keep hope and keep trying to do all you can to keep going."
Written by: Ryan Uytdewilligen, BC Transplant Volunteer