My Birmingham battle scar: How I fought for life

Megan Gagliardi
Megan Gagliardi

ComebackTown is published by David Sher to begin a discussion on a better Birmingham.

Today’s guest blogger is Megan Gagliardi.  If you’d like to be a guest blogger, please click here.

Take one look at me and you’ll see a normal 24 year-old-girl standing before you.

Take another look and you’ll most likely notice a 9-inch scar running down my chest. It’s a constant reminder to me that I should never take anything for granted – not even the little things. It’s my battle scar showing others how hard I have fought for life.


To give you a little more insight into my story, let me tell you a little bit about my background and childhood.

Elvis, BBQ, Beale Street, and Blues music. I grew up in the land of greatness, or so I thought.

It was all I had known up until the age of 17. By that time, my dad had landed a job here in Birmingham and we were forced to uproot our life from our everything in Memphis, TN and head to the Magic City.

August of 2010 is when I started my senior year at Mountain Brook High School. I knew no one. My new class was just short of 350 graduating seniors. Intimidating, huh? Yeah I thought so too. Fortunately enough, I was welcomed with nothing but open arms and friendly smiles.

I had lived in the South my whole life, but this was on a whole new level of nice; I was thrilled to be surrounded by such kind people. Fall seemed to fly by and spring rolled around in the blink of an eye. It was now May and I would be graduating soon.

Due in part to the fact that my family had just moved no less than 10 months ago, I opted to attend college at Samford University – a hop, skip, and a jump away from my house. Based off what I learned on my campus tours, I knew it would be just the place for me. Close to home, yet just far away enough where I could escape to my Samford bubble.

I could go on and on about my experience moving to a new city and what it’s like moving to a new brand school, but that’s not the good part. There’s a whole other reason why I moved here. God had some plan in store for me that I’d learn about soon enough.

Diagnosed with end-stage heart failure

Shortly after starting school, at age 18, I was diagnosed with end-stage heart failure. I was told I wouldn’t make it past much longer unless I received a heart transplant. Pretty tough news, huh? I thought so too.

So to the doctors and nurses at UAB who gave me the best care – I thank you…and I would like to write this letter:

I wouldn’t be here without your hard work and dedication to what you do. I was a scared teenager who felt her life ticking off, day by day. Every night I closed my eyes and prayed I would see through to the morning. And I did.

You called me on my 19th birthday to tell me the news that every person on the waiting list hopes to hear – “We have an organ for you.” You stood by my family and me as we cried tears of joy.

You held me every step of the way to ensure I was given the best possible care. On the night of my transplant, I looked in your eyes nervously and asked, “If this were your child, would you accept this transplant?” You smiled back and nodded in agreement.

My heart was assured I would be okay. I had nothing to fear for I was in great hands. You even clapped and smiled as I rang the bell, signaling to those around me that I was finally leaving the hospital after only 11 short days from my transplant surgery.

Diagnosed with Diffuse Large B Cell Lymphoma

No less than nine months later, I came running back to you.

This time I was told I had Diffuse Large B Cell Lymphoma. So, cancer now? My oh-so beautiful heart had shattered into a billion little pieces. I sunk my bottom into the over washed, ill-fitting hospital bed sheets and put my head down. Teardrop marks had already fallen from my face onto my gown. My whole life felt like it had been ripped out from beneath my feet in a matter of minutes.

Again, you rallied. You put together a chemotherapy cocktail and I prayed it be successful. I lost every long, dark lock on my head but you were there to compliment my wigs. I felt beautiful. 6 months later, I made it to the other side. I was cancer free; I could call myself a cancer survivor because of you.

To the nurses who loved me so well – I remember each and every one of you.  You brought me countless cups of juice, warm blankets for my chilly body, and even lent a listening ear for my late-night chats. You offered up sheets for the recliner that my mother slept on day in and day out; it was all she had for her to watch her daughter tangled up in wires and IV lines. You loved her so well as we both shed our many tears on your shoulders.

Birmingham doctors and nurses saved my life

To both of you collectively – in case you didn’t already know, you’re incredible at what you do and for that – I thank you. You save lives each and every day and you continue to make Birmingham the ever growing medical community that it already has become.

I look to you in times of need, but just know that you’ll always be an important piece of me. I’ll forever be grateful for you keeping me alive and well. I cannot thank you enough.

Love, Megan Gagliardi

Megan Gagliardi graduated from Samford University in 2016 with a degree in journalism and mass communication with a concentration in public relations and advertising. Following her health struggles, Megan has since completed 3 half marathons and final edits to her book “Heart of Gold” written from the dual perspective of both her mother and she.

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David Sher is Co-Founder of AmSher Compassionate Collections.  He’s past Chairman of the Birmingham Regional Chamber of Commerce (BBA), Operation New Birmingham (REV Birmingham), and the City Action Partnership (CAP).

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3 thoughts on “My Birmingham battle scar: How I fought for life”

  1. Wow, what an incredibly written, touching piece. I was moved to tears. You’re a strong young woman. Such a wonderful tribute to the doctors and nurses that rallied around you! Thank you for sharing your story, I’ll be keeping an eye out for your book.

    1. Megan! I am so very proud of you! Thank you for sharing your incredible journey! UAB’s transplant unit is phenomenal! There are no words to describe really how unbelievablely special EACH NURSE is. The Doctor’s as well. However those NURSE’S never stop giving! You are one very Special Lady and this is a beautiful testament of God’s plan and unconditional LOVE!

  2. Would of loved your story even if it took place somewhere far away. The story caught me at Birmingham rhough. I lived in Memphis area my last 2 yrs of HS, away for college, then Bham for almost 30 yrs! Worked at UAB CCU for awhile. I had to move closer to my parents, but I go to Bham often. Friends and some kinda feeling I dont get anywhere else. Funny: I lived up the hill from Samford 10 yrs!! What I dont have in common is your strength. I wouldnt have it now, much less at 18-19-20 yrs old!! I have been an organ donor since I was 15. If my heart (anything else too) gets to help someone in the future, I hope it will be someone like you. It will be the first time it was motivated to run in a marathon for sure!!! Thanks for a “hearwarming” story!

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