The most amazing thing about Michelle Middleton's new heart is that she doesn't notice it all.
"I don't even feel it beating," she said. "Before, I could see my heart beating through my clothes. It would keep me awake at night."
Middleton, 35, was diagnosed with leukemia when she was 21. A rare effect of the chemotherapy caused her heart to deteriorate.
She was put on a donor list and on July 15, she went into Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles for a transplant.
"It's overwhelming to explain. It's just a miracle," she said. "There's so many emotions that you feel. For the family to donate the heart -- that's an amazing gift."
It's a gift she will not take for granted. The life expectancy of a heart transplant patient is between 10 and 12 years, but she is not focusing on that.
"We don't know what the Lord has in store for me," she said. "He'll call me when it's my time. I just enjoy each day. I'm not one who will stay in bed all day. You can't keep me down."
After she was discharged from the hospital Aug. 5, Middleton stayed with her cousin in Los Angeles to go in for a biopsy every week.
Although she must still have a biopsy once a month, she returned home Thursday morning to Carson City where she lives with her husband, Joy.
She owns and operates her own child care business Tender Loving Childcare and volunteers at Hilltop Community Church. She also visits patients suffering with or recovering from cancer and is a member of the American Heart Association. She is part of a support group for other transplant recipients in Reno.
"I received so many cards of support and so many prayers while I was away," she said. "I'm so glad to be home."
Friends from her church held a welcome home dinner for her and mothers have promised to return their children to her care.
"The children are so good. I enjoy being with them and I get energy from them."
Middleton said she and her friends and family plan to write thank-you cards to the family of the heart donor in November.
She will continue to take anti-rejection medication and knows her body could reject the heart any time.
But she does not despair and advises others with terminal illnesses to remain optimistic.
"The Lord has been very good to us," she said. "There is hope out there."
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