(NEWARK, N.J.) -- For decades, Lisa Salberg, 48, has grappled with complications from a dangerous form of heart disease called hypertrophic cardiomyopathy. She had a stroke at 21 and multiple
operations over the years to try and preserve her heart.
After her heart began to fail, her doctors decided she need a transplant. She was placed on the organ donor list last November. Earlier this month, Salberg was matched to a new heart and underwent
the life-saving transplant surgery.
But, before she went into the operating room she had an unusual request for her surgeon: save the damaged heart.
Salberg has been an activist for heart disease research and started the Hypertrophic Cardiomyopathy Association after her sister died from the same heart disease she was diagnosed with at 12 years
old. In total, five of her family members have been diagnosed with hypertrophic cardiomyopathy, a condition where the heart muscles enlarge and cause the ventricles to thicken.
According to the Cleveland Clinic, between 600,000 and 1.5 million people are afflicted with the disorder in the U.S., or one in 500 people.
Salberg said she wanted her damaged heart to become a tool to raise awareness of the condition and educate others.
"We were friends for 48 years," Salberg said about her heart.
Her transplant surgeon at Newark Beth Israel Medical Center, Dr. Margarita Camacho, said she was surprised by the request.
"I've never had anybody ask that, the first thing I thought was how wonderful she wanted to do that," Camacho told ABC News.
Four days after her surgery, Salberg's husband and Camacho presented Salberg with her original heart, which had been preserved by freezing. After nearly a lifetime of hearing her heart beat extra
loudly in her chest, she said she was surprised to see what the damaged organ looked like in person.
"I was struck by the density and the weight to it," Salberg said. "It was really, really heavy."
While Salberg said she initially greeted her damaged heart with a profanity, she also felt grateful that it had been functional long enough to get her through until her transplant.
"I said, 'Thank you, you worked hard for 48 years,'" Salberg told ABC News. "It [was] with me every moment of the day of my life, it was nice to be able to say goodbye."
Salberg said that, after the transplant, she instantly felt a difference in her energy and overall well-being. The renewed energy has pushed her to focus on the Hypertrophic Cardiomyopathy
Association and help others who are afflicted with the same conditions she has.
"The reality clicked in I have an entire community of people who feel badly," Salberg said, referring to other people who have hypertrophic cardiomyopathy. "I have an entire life ahead of me to
find ways to improve their health and I'm doubling down. You ain't seen nothing yet."
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