By Matt Stephens The Courier of Montgomery County staff
LAKE CONROE – After 14 years of common law marriage, Esmerelda and Jose Luis Miranda officially tied the knot, walking the aisle as friends and family smiled through tears at the La Toretta Lake Resort & Spa Sunday.
Recently as seven months ago, however, this scene would have seemed impossible to the bride.
“This is very, very special. A dream come true for us,” said Miranda, who resides in the Houston area. “I never thought this was gonna happen.”
More than 109,000 people are currently awaiting an organ transplant in the United States, according to LifeGift, a non-profit organization that recovers organs for people needing transplants. Less than a year ago, Miranda was one of them, awaiting a heart at the St. Luke’s Episcopal Hospital in Houston.
Born with a heart murmur, doctors have told Miranda that she would be able to live with the irregular heartbeat. However, she had gone through three open heart surgeries before collapsing in the street in her hometown of Weslaco in 2009 with a hole in her heart “the size of a silver dollar,” said Elvia Valdez, public relations coordinator for LifeGift.
On May 18, Miranda received a transplant after almost a year on the waiting list at St. Luke’s, which she referred as “one of many blessings” she’s experienced recently. The second blessing came from the Wish Upon a Wedding organization, which granted her a dream wedding at the resort, free of charge.
Heather Sims, president of the Houston chapter of the organization, said it was founded in January, and this is the first wedding put on by the Houston branch. Sims spoke with Miranda initially at a presentation at the St. Luke’s hospital several months ago, and Miranda’s story set her apart.
“It was the journey they had gone through to get to where they are,” Sims said.
The organization partnered with Wish Centers to provide the dress, rings, food and location for the wedding. Sims said “a lot of people came together to pull this off” and praised La Toretta for their help, “going above and beyond.”
“It’s a dream come true for all of us,” said husband Jose Luis Miranda. “We’re really appreciative for what they’ve done for us.”
Miranda said the wedding was especially important for her maid of honor, her 14-year-old daughter Josephine Marie Miranda.
“She’s so proud of her father,” Miranda said. “She told me she’s proud of how he’s stood by me through this. She has friends whose parents split up over less.”
Although family were in attendance, several invited guests were friends she has met through St. Luke’s Hospital. Linda Roberts, LVN, and Melissa Roberts, PCA, attended the wedding and said they have grown close to Miranda during her stay at the hospital, as they witnessed her highs and lows.
“We were there to see her when she had given up, so to see her at the wedding is amazing,” Carroll said. “You know you’ve come this close (to patients) when you go to their weddings.”
Randy Creech, of Kingwood, met Miranda through the hospital’s Heart Exchange Volunteer program, of which she also is a member. The group, made up of heart recipients, meets with people awaiting heart transplants and explains the process to them. Creech has seen more than 1,000 possible heart recipients in his 20 years with the program.
He said he was glad to attend the wedding and believes Miranwill continue to feel better with her new heart.
Miranda also volunteers with LifeGift’s Vital Volunteer program, and said her participation is important.
“Because somebody was there for me and explained to me what it’s going to be like,” she said. “I’m just giving back what was given to me.
“I was given a second chance at life. That’s the best gift you can give someone.”
Sofia Perches, outreach coordinator with St. Luke’s, said about 60 heart transplants are done every year at St. Luke’s Cooley Transplant Center and about 2,000 are performed across the country. According to LifeGift, although 10,000 Texans are currently awaiting organs, Texas is last in the country in registered number of donors.