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Heart transplant recipient finishes marathon alongside donor’s father

Pam LeBlanc

Shae Brown, the Shiner woman who had a heart transplant four years ago, crossed the finish line of the Bank of America Chicago Marathon yesterday alongside the father of the woman who donated that heart.

“We grabbed hands and crossed finish line with our hands held up, and then emotion took over for me,” Brown said Monday, elated and feeling fine except for a pair of tired legs and a few blisters on her feet. “When I hugged him, I started crying. It got real emotional for me.”

RELATED: She received his daughter’s heart, now they’re running a marathon together

Brown, 49, underwent a lifesaving transplant in 2013. A chemotherapy drug dubbed the Red Devil, used to treat the cancer that developed in the muscle surrounding her stomach as a teen-ager, had progressively weakened her heart.

By the time she was 36, she needed a pacemaker. Five years later, in 2012, doctors placed her on the heart transplant list. On May 20, 2013, she received the ultimate gift – the heart of a 24-year-old woman who’d grown up in Chicago, Alyssa Miller.

Brown ran Sunday’s race alongside Fred Miller, Alyssa’s 62-year-old father.

Brown says she thought about Alyssa as she ran. “Anytime it felt like it was going to get hard, I tried to remember why I was doing it,” she said. “Fred and I talked about her a little in the beginning.”

The two crossed the finish line in 6 hours, 30 minutes and 13 seconds. The race marked Brown’s first marathon and Miller’s 11th. They walked at every water stop, and paused to take pictures and high-five family members who met them ever 5 miles along the route. A camera crew from NBC Nightly News followed the pair, and the segment should air Tuesday evening.

“It was really, really good,” Brown said. “We weren’t in it for speed.”

Brown said the toughest part came at about Mile 20, when she felt like she was about to hit the “wall” that marathoners talk about, the point where body fatigue sets in and doubts rise.

“Having Fred with me, I pushed through it,” she said.

The best moment came near the end of the race.

“You think you’re going to die going up that last hill, then you turn the corner and you can see the finish line. You’re like ‘I made it, I did this!'” she said. “It was my first marathon and I just wanted to take it all in. There will never be another experience like that.”

The marathon likely won’t be Brown’s last. Even one day after her first, when many exhausted marathoners vow never to repeat the process, she said she definitely wanted to run another.

That opportunity could come quickly, too. Miller says he’s considering the marathon in Houston in January, but insists he’s not pressuring Brown into it.