Heart transplants gave mother and daughter a second chance at life

Heart transplant recipients Lucy Emonina, mother, and her daughter, Ovuke’ McCoy attend AMA’s Red Dress Collection event
Lucy Emonina and her daughter, Ovuke’ McCoy

People who have received transplants understand that organ transplantation offers a second chance at life. UAB Medicine patients Lucy Emonina and her daughter, Ovuke’ McCoy, share that understanding in a deeper way. They both were born with a serious heart condition and later received heart transplants. Since then, mother and daughter have enjoyed active lives, sharing their stories in various ways and serving as ambassadors for heart health and organ donation awareness.

Heart disease takes a toll

For Emonina, 71, and McCoy, 49, the fact that they each required a new heart is just another chapter in a difficult family history. They both suffered strokes due to hypertrophic cardiomyopathy (HCM). Cardiomyopathy refers to a group of diseases that affect the heart muscle, causing it to become enlarged, thick, rigid, and form scar tissue in some cases. This makes the heart weaker and less able to pump and deliver blood to the rest of the body, leading to heart failure.

HCM is usually inherited and is the most common form of genetic heart disease. Emonina says the condition has taken a toll across generations in her family.

Lucy Emonina
Lucy Emonina

“I lost my four brothers to this disease,” Emonina said. “The youngest was three years old. Another was 11, playing football when he became over-exerted and died from a cardiac event. Our mother died from heart disease when she was in her early 50s. I lost my two sons, Ovuke’s brothers, when they were ages 28 and 34. This disease has taken a toll, mostly on the men in our family.”

Emonina began having symptoms at an early age, but her condition worsened after she had children. After suffering a mini-stroke, she saw UAB Medicine heart specialists and then underwent medical treatment until she received a new heart at the UAB Comprehensive Transplant Institute (CTI) in 1995.

McCoy’s journey was similar to her mom’s. In 2018, she learned that she too would need a new heart.

“Since I was nine years old I’ve been visiting cardiologists,” McCoy said. “In 2005, when I started losing consciousness at times, my doctor advised the use of an implantable cardioverter defibrillator (ICD) to regulate heart rhythm. That ICD was a successful remedy for many years, until December of 2016, when I had a heart attack. I was rushed to the emergency department and hospitalized for a week. The following summer, I suffered a mild stroke. I was almost always fatigued and had constant swelling in my abdomen. Those symptoms were signs of heart failure. In January of 2018, the advanced heart failure team referred me to the heart transplant team to begin evaluations, so I could be added to the list of patients awaiting a heart transplant. We found a donor match in July of that year. This was my second chance at life.”

A range of emotions

Mother and daughter say that their transplant journeys, though successful, brought concerns and fears.

“My family and I didn’t know as much about organ transplants in 1995 as we do now,” Emonina said. “We weren’t sure it would save me, and we didn’t know what my life would be like afterward. But my main thought was that my children needed me. One of them was four years old at the time. I needed to survive. The cardiology and transplant teams at UAB made every effort to give me confidence. That was a big help.”

McCoy agrees that the process was physically and mentally difficult.

Ovuke’ McCoy
Ovuke’ McCoy

“The days after my transplant brought a number of emotions,” McCoy said. “First, I’m lying there thinking, ‘Wow, some else’s heart is in my body.’ I see all the stiches. All kinds of medical people coming at me. But I’m also aware that I have survived a deadly condition and now have a heart that’s functioning. I was in the hospital for 17 days. I had my mom to look to for support, since she’s my mom first of all, and second, she has had a transplant herself. I sometimes joke that I have always wanted to be like Mom, but not quite this much like her.”

Jose Tallaj, M.D. is an advanced heart failure and transplant cardiologist who serves as medical director for the UAB CTI’s heart transplant program. He has witnessed the losses and victories the family has experienced. He says the seriousness of their conditions makes their survival all the more remarkable.

“Hypertrophic cardiomyopathy has devastated their family,” Dr. Tallaj said. “The type of cardiomyopathy they have has been one of the more malignant that I have seen, with their development of arrhythmias and heart failure at early ages. Lucy Emonina has been an example of getting a second chance at life. She has done remarkably well over the years, is very active in her community, and more importantly has been present through many family events over the years. Ovuke’ McCoy is an example in resilience. She has also done well over the years and has taken advantage of the second chance that she received, working with the disadvantaged population.”

Advocacy and ambassadorship

By “active in the community,” Dr. Tallaj is referring to the many ways that mother and daughter work to bring awareness to the importance of hearth health and organ donation. Emonina and McCoy take every opportunity possible to serve as ambassadors for medical organizations at health awareness events.

“Both of us were selected as 2021 American Heart Association (AMA) ambassadors,” McCoy said. “We were interviewed on NBC’s ‘Today Show.’ My mom and I were in New York in 2023 for the AMA’s Red Dress Collection event. We shared our story there as well. I’ve participated in seminars online for various health organizations. I’m also an ambassador for Legacy of Hope; whenever I have a chance I volunteer with them to spread awareness about organ donation. I have had to slow down; I’m 49, and I will never have the same energy I had before the transplant. Watching my mom has taught me that you have to slow down and care for yourself if you want to be there for others. And I want to be, because I have been given this second chance.”

The mother-daughter team plans to work as volunteers this summer at the Transplant Games of America, which will be held in Birmingham in July. It will feature 20 competitions and more than 60 special events, and it will honor families who have given the gift of life while raising awareness for organ, eye, and tissue donation and transplantation. UAB Medicine was named the presenting medical partner of the Transplant Games. Emonina said she’s looking forward to the event.

“My daughter and I try to say yes when any organization calls on us,” Emonina said. “I love UAB and I love the doctors. Whatever they need me to do, I’m available to volunteer, especially for the Transplant Games. One of my sons was a college-educated, very intelligent young man. He was a band director and had many interests, and he always insisted he didn’t have time to see doctors and look after his health the way he should. He waited until he had no choice, and it was too late. Friends who know about my family history and my heart transplant sometimes will ask my opinion about a health question, and I say ‘Do not ask me. See your doctor. Have that checkup.’”

The Emonina family has made an impression on many UAB Medicine providers, at every level. Adam Waters, CRNP, is a transplant coordinator with the CTI. He summed up what this family has meant to the care teams there.

“Lucy Emonina and her daughter are quite the pair,” Waters said. “They have a remarkable story and one we are proud to be a part of. They are both examples of successful transplants and are a unique part of our legacy here at UAB.”

The UAB Heart Transplant Program has evolved into one of the most distinguished in the nation, since performing the first heart transplant in the Southeast in 1981. Click here to learn more.

By using this site you agree to our Privacy Policy.