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A local man's comeback story

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CHATTANOOGA (WRCB) -- A Chattanooga man is thankful to be alive for another Super Bowl Sunday after undergoing a heart transplant a few years ago. It all started in November of 2004 when now 57 year old Melvin Gillilan, after feeling perfectly healthy all his life, suddenly experienced excruciating chest pains while at work.

"The paramedics got me to the hospital and they told the ER doctor 'He's not having a heart attack'," recalls Gillilan.

It turned out to be congestive heart failure, a hereditary condition requiring a double bypass to correct. But a month later the chest pains returned and Gillilan went back under the knife, this time for a quadruple bypass. In the end it didn't do the trick, either. His wife of eleven years, Mary, didn't know what to do. She was worried she would lose her soul mate.

"I didn't want to be alone. I had found a great guy. We had such a good, close relationship," says Mary.

Gillilan's chances for a long life were diminishing, but there was some good news on the horizon--one more chance to prolong a life which may get cut short. Doctors placed Gillilan on a list for a heart transplant. He kept his cell phone by his side at all times, waiting two and half years for the call that could save his life.

"They could call at you anytime and you had [only] so many hours to get there," says Gillilan.

The surgery at Vanderbilt was successful and took place on Super Bowl Sunday, 2008. The teams playing that night were the same as this year--the Giants and Patriots. The Giants comeback that year made Gillilan, an Alabama native, an instant fan because of his own comeback.

"I'm really for the Giants because they came back from that on the Super Bowl Sunday that I had my transplant," says Gillilan.

Mary says the family persevered the entire ordeal through prayer, positive thinking, and a sense of humor.

"We do know the heart came from a 38 year old male. Now I have a younger man which makes me a cougar," Mary says, kidding with her husband.

Gillilan would no longer trail in the game of life and was able to welcome his granddaughter into the world two years ago because of a selfless organ donor. Even though he and Mary know another family suffered a loss which became their gain, they're very thankful.

"You thank them because I wouldn't be here without it," says Gillilan.

"Thank you for the gift of life," says Mary.

They hopes others will check the boxes on the backs of their drivers licenses. It could save a life like it did Gillilan's. They've attempted to find out more about the late man whose heart now lives in Gillilan's body, but so far they've received no response. Gillilan says he'll keep trying.

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