For 70 years, Kathleen Anderson’s congenital heart disease had eroded her health and brought her to her knees in prayer. 

As she finally prepared to undergo a heart transplant, she paused to pray and hoped to find healing and respite when she emerged from surgery.

Although she awoke with a healthy new heart in her chest, the ordeal triggered a monthslong spiritual battle in her that caused her to cry out to God. 

Today, Anderson says that God has physically — and spiritually — healed her heart and says that her Catholic faith, her commitment to prayer, and the support of others helped her to persevere. 

“My advice to those who are suffering is to never give up hope and to turn to Jesus, because he will give you the peace that you need,” said Anderson, a longtime parishioner of St. Cornelius Church in Long Beach. 

Anderson was born into a devout Catholic family and prayed the rosary every night with her parents, asking God to heal her heart. She went on to get married and have three children, even after doctors weren’t sure she could have kids because of her illness. 

With time, Anderson’s condition worsened. She had her first heart surgery at 52, and underwent additional procedures in the following years. 

Ultimately, doctors placed her on Cedars-Sinai Medical Center’s heart transplant list but warned her that it could take years for her to get a new heart. Having a heart transplant is also still fairly rare — 4,545 in the U.S. in 2023, according to tracking data — despite it being well known.

“I had faith,” she said. “I prayed. I said ‘thy will be done.’ ”

But that faith was tested with several letdowns. Twice, Anderson was called into the hospital to receive heart transplants but was turned down at the last minute. 

She was later told she was being removed from the transplant list as the COVID-19 pandemic began to unfold. She wasn’t sure when — or if — she’d be put back on the list, but again clung to prayer and tried to accept God’s will.

In November 2020, she was called in for a heart transplant for the third time but didn’t think it would actually happen. 

“I was wheeled into the operating room and this time the doctor was all suited up,” she said. “He looked at me and he said, ‘Are you ready for battle?’ And I knew that it was time.” 

When Anderson awoke from surgery, she quickly realized that her battle would be more spiritual than physical — something that she did not expect. 

She found that her new heartbeat felt “different.” She feared her body might reject her new heart. And she didn’t feel the “euphoria” that she thought she should feel. 

“I wanted to feel the happiness because I could see that everyone was so happy for me,” she said. “Instead I felt fear, confusion. Almost not knowing how to feel. Almost not feeling at all.”

Kathleen Anderson holds a photo of the woman whose heart was donated and transplanted into her. Anderson still keeps in contact with the woman’s family. (Isabel Cacho)

Anderson returned home to a strong support system and supportive church community, but still couldn’t shake her feelings. 

It took several months for her to rebound, but she remained steadfast in prayer and looked to the lives of the saints for inspiration and guidance.

“Little by little, I felt Jesus and I felt God helping me through all the prayers, through all the support,” she said. “And I started to feel that lifting. And I started to feel the joy.”

As the first anniversary of her heart transplant neared, she felt invigorated and grateful. 

She planned a big party at a park near her house to thank her supporters for their support, love, and prayers. COVID restrictions were starting to lift and she wanted to see everyone in person. 

“I didn’t want to just send notes,” she said. “I wanted to feel them, I wanted to touch them. I wanted to really let them know that I was here.”

Today, Anderson is 74 and has been married for 48 years. She is a grandmother of seven and has been active at her parish for more than 20 years.

She’s also struck up a friendship with her heart donor’s husband and two daughters. She visited them a few years ago in San Diego, where they spent several hours telling Anderson about their beloved wife and mother and sharing family photo albums with her. 

“It was a good meeting,” she said. “To this day, we still keep in contact.”

These days, Anderson is focused on teaching her grandchildren how to turn to God in good times and in bad. 

She’s also intent on sharing her story with others as a way to spread hope and healing. 

“My purpose is to reach out and to let people know what God did for me, what Jesus did for me, what people did for me,” she said. 

Those who know Anderson say she’s happy with life and goes the extra mile to help bring others to Christ. 

“It was such a bittersweet moment,” said Anderson’s daughter, Jaclyn Padgett, who also attends St. Cornelius. “Somebody lost their life to give a life and she’s held that very near and dear to her heart.

“She’s just got a sense of wonder and amazement about this gift. I think she truly feels like it’s such a gift for her to be able to continue living and to continue serving.”

Msgr. Jarlath Cunnane — known as “Fr. Jay” — pastor at St. Cornelius, describes Anderson as a dedicated parishioner who is involved in various groups and often speaks about her transplant and faith journey during parish retreats.

“I think her testimonies are always very impactful because of the depth of her sharing and the faith involved,” he said. 

Looking toward the future, Anderson said she’s trying to live in the moment, and not worry about what tomorrow may bring. 

As always, she remains consistent in her willingness to follow God’s plan. 

“I now hold two hearts within me,” she said. “One physical, and one spiritual, sharing in the wonders of God’s glorious works. And I thank God every day.”