Transplant gave her life, but hours after giving birth, she died

  • Lindsey Bever
  • Washington Post
11:47 a.m. Monday, July 3, 2017 Atlanta Life
Megan (left), Nathan and Eilee Johnson. CONTRIBUTED BY JOSH WILSON

Not long after Megan Johnson gave birth, her husband posted a picture on social media, welcoming their daughter into the world.

Years earlier, Johnson had been diagnosed with congestive heart failure and given a new heart and another chance to live. Her husband, Nathan, announced last Tuesday on Instagram that “her heart worked perfectly” during the delivery, and their daughter, Eilee Kate, “introduced herself quickly and smooth. I am a rich man!!!”

For the next six hours, the Johnsons loved their newborn.

“They were so excited, they couldn’t sleep so they spent time with the baby and talked all morning,” Josh Wilson, a friend of Nathan Johnson, said Friday morning in a telephone interview.

Then Megan Johnson started experiencing complications and, by late morning, she had died, Wilson later wrote on a GoFundMe page.

Johnson gave birth about 2:40 a.m. Tuesday and, for the next several hours, “held, fed, and burped little Eilee,” Wilson, Nathan Johnson’s bandmate, wrote on the crowdfunding page.

Then about 11 a.m., Megan Johnson died, Wilson said.

“Needless to say, Nathan is devastated,” Wilson wrote. “There are no words for this, so I won’t really say much more. Here is what I know. Nathan is a wonderful man and an amazing father. He loves his daughter dearly.”

Wilson said Nathan Johnson took his daughter home Wednesday and has been “up and down” but surrounded by family members and close friends.

Wilson told The Washington Post that he started the GoFundMe page, which had raised more than $345,000 by Friday afternoon, to get Nathan Johnson, a Christian music artist, “off the road. To buy him some time.”

It’s not yet clear what led to Megan Johnson’s death. The American Heart Association warns that women who have had heart transplants could develop complications during pregnancy; for example, immunosuppressive medications could pose a risk to an unborn child and, after the child is born, there is a greater risk of rejection for the mother. But it is not known what caused Johnson’s complications.

In 2002, Johnson, then 15, was a student and athlete at North County Christian School near her home in Ferguson, Missouri, according to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. She played basketball, volleyball and soccer, until she unexpectedly lost her endurance, according to news reports and a blog post that appeared to be written by her father.

“I’d just finished basketball season and I was starting soccer and I couldn’t walk up the stairs without getting out of breath; I couldn’t run the laps,” she told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch in 2011.

Johnson was diagnosed with myocarditis, an inflammation caused by a virus that can lead to heart failure. She was given medications and strict orders to give up sports, she said, but she survived.

But more than seven years later, Johnson’s symptoms returned, and she was diagnosed with congestive heart failure, according to the blog post.

In 2010, the then-23-year-old underwent a heart transplant at Barnes-Jewish Hospital in St. Louis, according to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.

“I am extremely grateful for her gift. However, I am so saddened for the family that lost their dear loved one. I ache knowing that I am here and she is not,” she later wrote on a blog, chronically her journey.

“I have a part of that person in me,” she added. “I can feel her heart beat in my chest. It is a remarkable, yet difficult feeling knowing I am here because of someone else’s life. I ache for her. My heart is sad for her and her family. I truly hope one day her family will know how much I appreciate her/their special gift. I can never repay. I am forever grateful. Thank you.”

The year after her transplant, she married Nathan Johnson and moved to Nashville, she wrote online.

Over the years, Johnson has spoken passionately and publicly - both on her blog and to local news media - about organ donation, telling the St. Louis Post-Dispatch a year after her transplant, “I never thought about being an organ donor until I needed one. My family didn’t think about it until they had a daughter who needed it.”

“That’s a huge thing in my life,” she added at the time. “It can save lives. It saved mine. It’s the gift of life.”

Wilson, the family friend, told The Post that Johnson’s organs are going to more than 50 recipients.

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