LOS ANGELES (CBS) — You may not know her name, but if you’re a parent in California, you’ve been affected by her work. State Senator Sharon Runner (R-Lancaster), along with her husband, were the driving force behind Jessica’s Law – a law protecting against sex offenders. And while she’s used to fighting for a cause, fighting for her life was something much different. CBS2’s Lisa Sigell has her exclusive story:
Just weeks after a life-saving double lung transplant, State Senator Sharon Runner invited me to her home to talk for the first time about the surgery that saved her.
The journey began three years ago when she was first placed on a transplant list after suffering for 30 years from limited scleroderma — an autoimmune disease that essentially attacks the body’s healthy tissue and organs.
The 57-year-old continued working in the Senate until November when the disease progressed to a point where she was hospitalized.
She tried to go home for Christmas but ended up being airlifted back.
“I think when there were times that I’d say, ‘It’s not worth fighting.’ Between the trach and all the tubes, you had to prepare yourself that you weren’t going to make it,” she said.
Her situation became so dire that the transplant was her only hope. She had her husband, former State Senator George Runner, by her side at every moment.
“I was in the hospital on our 39th wedding anniversary. He brought me beautiful yellow roses which he does every anniversary and I couldn’t have them in ICU but he brought them anyway,” she said.
The hardest part was the waiting… not knowing if or when a transplant would be available and every night, they’d pray for a miracle.
“We’d talk about whether it wasn’t going to be the night. And it was… I knew it was very difficult for Sharon to be there,” her husband said.
Weeks ago when that moment finally came, it was 2 a.m. Unable to call her husband, the nurse did it for her – it’s something they will never forget.
“We put him on speakerphone and got in the car and got there. My son got on an airplane and got there right before I went into surgery,” she said.
The surgery at Ronald Reagan UCLA Medical Center was a success, the lungs a match, her body not rejecting them but she knows now the emotional toll not just of illness, but depending on others for survival — of being on a transplant list.
“I’m a walking miracle because people decided their child, their daughter, or she decided that she was going to help other people live,” she said.
And the Senator is not going to waste that gift.
In June, she’ll return to work to finish out her term – fighting once again for causes she believes in.
“I’m just having to deal with a different set of challenges. You take it one day at a time and realize you’re so blessed to be able to be here and to share the joy,” she added.
Sharon says she can never repay the family that gave her life and there is nothing more important than getting the message out about organ and tissue donation.
An organ donation can save the lives of eight people. For more information on becoming a donor, visit Donate Life California online.