BATON ROUGE, LA (WAFB) - Shari Melon is a 21-year-old woman with the same dreams and desires as most people her age. She was born on September 12, 1991 weighing five pounds five ounces; small but healthy.
It wasn't until six years later that her mother realized something was terribly wrong. Shari said she was outside playing one day and she just didn't have the energy to make her kite fly.
Doctors treated her for pneumonia, but her symptoms were only getting worse. "I would get out of breath really easily. And couldn't do anything," said Shari.
It was a cardiologist who broke the news that would change her life forever. "The airlines of my lungs were all crumbled and none of them were working too well. They said that I look like I've been a smoker for 50 years or something like that," said Shari.
She was diagnosed with primary pulmonary hypertension. It is a rare disease that leads to the narrowing of blood vessels in the lungs. As it progresses, it causes high blood pressure.
A lung transplant was Shari's only option. Her mother, Leilani, started researching. "I had to see what I could do to keep her alive," said Leilani. Shari had her first lung transplant at the age of 11. For seven and a half years, she lived a normal life. She graduated from high school in 2011 and was ready to dive into the real world.
"It was awesome being able to see her play and do all that," said Leilani. Before Leilani saw her daughter off to college, another challenge arose. She got sick and her body started rejecting her new lungs. Instead of starting college with her friends, Shari was off to Texas for a second lung transplant. It worked for another two and a half years.
"My body started rejecting the organs and I got really pale, couldn't breathe and I had to be on oxygen 24/7," said Shari. "She was already in chronic rejection when she was put in the hospital on April 10th. Everything started failing on her," said Leilani. In 2012, Shari was put on a waiting list for what would be her third lung transplant.
The doctor didn't tell Shari in the beginning how many transplants she might have to have in her lifetime. She didn't think she would have to have a third one. She said she didn't think she was going to make it because she was having problems. She says "they lost me four times and brought me back."
Meanwhile, back in Louisiana, another family was dealing with a different heartache. Five people were killed instantly when their car crashed head-on with Brett Gerald, who was driving drunk down Highway 67 in Slaughter, LA. Two teenagers, Willie Gaines Jr., 15, and his younger brother R.J., were sent to the hospital with life threatening injuries. They did not survive. The Gaines family made a decision that would change Shari's life. Willie's lungs were a match for Shari. She was ready for her third transplant.
When asked what the day was like when she heard about the match, she said, "The best news I had ever heard." "I learned that he was in a bad car accident and that he didn't make it and all I really knew is that I was getting his organs."
Shari learned of the Gaines' selfless act when she woke from surgery. She celebrated her 21st birthday in the hospital.
Now back at home, her life still isn't easy. "You have to learn how to re-walk. You have to learn how to eat and use all your functions again," said Shari. Her bedroom resembles that of a young woman; a dream catcher hangs overhead, the walls around her are decorated with gifts from friends. But it is hard to ignore the obvious; an oxygen machine and a big tote bag carries the medications Shari must take every day.
Shari's mother says her only hope is that Shari is here forever. Shari didn't know her donor's name, what he was like. She had plenty of questions. Then the answers came to her doorstep. There have been a lot of tears shed here, but a chance meeting between Shari and her donor's relatives would be the medicine both families needed.
Willie Gaines Junior's uncle, Marcus Gaines, and Aunt Delia Gaines-Brady were eager to learn more about Shari. They found out Shari received her transplant the same day Willie Gaines Jr. was taken off life support.
The Gaines' admit it was one of the hardest decisions they've had to make, but it is also one that brought them peace. "We're at the point to where we're so happy," said Delia Gaines-Brady. "I never wanted to be a donor because I was like 'I came here with all my pieces, I want to leave with them.' But to see someone, it helps save lives, it is really a blessing."
"It was a hard decision for us to do at the time, but we all felt it was the right thing to do," said Marcus Gaines. "And I really see the goodness that came out of it so... And I really appreciate it... Thank that man above...giving me another chance at life."
It is the beautiful beginning of a friendship, bound by a selfless act, strong support and the simple will to want to help others.