Greeted by tears, hugs and applause, teacher's aide Linda Peton returned to Carson High School on Wednesday.
It was Peton's first visit since receiving a heart transplant in August.
"My new heart is just about to pop out of my chest," she told teachers gathered for a staffmeeting after school. "I am doing astoundingly fantastic. I've dreamed of this."
The 23-year Carson City School District veteran has suffered from congestive heart failure since undergoing chemotherapy in 1991 for breast cancer.
Last year, her condition became dire. Doctors told her she would not survive without a transplant. But she had depleted most of her time off from work and savings on travel to the hospital in Utah and other medical expenses.
Peton's co-workers rallied together, donating their sick leave. They, along with fellow members of her Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, organized fundraisers and donated money.
The Methodist Church helped, as did former students and an assortment of other people and organizations.
"How many people it took is just beyond words," she said. "People I didn't even know made contributions. I have been given a lot. I can never explain how grateful I am."
Peton left Carson City for the University of Utah Hospital on June 1. Around 3:15 a.m. on Aug. 9, she received the call that a heart was available.
Doctors told her she was the "poster child" for a successful transplant. Her gratitude to the community is exceeded only by her gratitude to the donor and his family.
"They lost a loved one," Peton said. "I got the miracle. I got the gift of life."
She sent a card of thanks to the family. She also sent cards to everyone who donated to her cause, from those who gave money, to those who sent her text messages of encouragement and care packages.
"Not once in the whole time I was gone was I afraid or feel alone," Peton said. "I felt everybody's love."
She spent eight months in the hospital before returning to Carson City on Jan. 29.
While there, she spent her free time making blankets for the children in the hospital.
"It helped me to not think about myself," Peton said.
Peton said when she's stronger, she plans to be an advocate, encouraging others to become organ donors.
For now, she's focused on her original goal to make it back into the classroom.
"I want to come back after spring break," she said. "That would be my goal come true. This is my home."
Because of her compromised immune system, Peton wore a surgical mask Wednesday and tried to stay at arm's length.
"Not to sound corny," Peton said, "but I just wish I could get our there with those kids right now. What could be better?"