After Third Heart Transplant, Wyoming Woman Says Every Day Is A Gift From God

Jenn Green of Gillette, who is recovering from her third heart transplant, says she wants to be an inspiration to others, give them hope and make them believe they should never give up. "Most of all trust in the Lord. I believe that is my purpose," she says.

Amber Steinmetz

February 24, 202413 min read

Jenn Green of Gillette has had her northeast Wyoming hometown behind her through three heart transplant surgeries.
Jenn Green of Gillette has had her northeast Wyoming hometown behind her through three heart transplant surgeries. (Courtesy Jenn Green)

For Jenn Green, every new day is not only a gift from God, but also because of the sacrifice of three other people.

The 49-year-old Gillette woman underwent her third heart transplant last summer, while also receiving a kidney. It’s been a difficult journey from her first transplant in 1988, one that’s been filled with many peaks and valleys. It’s also what’s made her who she is today.

“I think God is using me to send a message,” she said about her multiple heart and organ transplants. “I want to be an inspiration to others, give them hope, make them believe they should never give up under any odds — and most of all trust in the Lord. I believe that is my purpose.”

‘I Was Just Ready To Die’

Green was a typical, healthy teen when she began to suffer from flu-like symptoms at the age of 13. It wasn’t a major cause for concern until the symptoms got worse and her mom took her to the emergency room.

Initially, doctors thought she had pneumonia, but after a few more tests it was discovered her heart was enlarged with fluid buildup. She was sent to Billings, Montana, for more tests, but nothing definitive was discovered.

Over the next two months her condition deteriorated, but Green said doctors weren’t overly concerned.

“They just kept telling me that I was going be OK and that I might need a transplant in, like, 10 years or so,” she said. “And then it just kept getting worse, so we finally went to a different doctor in Casper, and he sent me straight from there to Denver. They pretty much put me on the transplant list right then.”

At the University of Colorado Hospital, she was diagnosed with viral cardiomyopathy. Viral infection of the heart is relatively common and usually asymptomatic with a complete resolution. In rare cases, however, it can lead to substantial cardiac damage, development of viral cardiomyopathy and congestive heart failure.

“I deteriorated so fast, which was really unusual for someone my age, so they put me at the top of the transplant list because I was so bad,” she said. “It was pretty traumatizing and confusing, because obviously I'd always been healthy up to that point. Then I pretty much was just sick all the time. I was throwing up and by the time I was in Denver. I was sleeping all the time.

“At one point, I was just ready to die.”

Jenn Green and her mother Cynthia Updike in California during the fall 2022 for tests before getting on the transplant list.
Jenn Green and her mother Cynthia Updike in California during the fall 2022 for tests before getting on the transplant list. (Courtesy Jenn Green)

New Heart No. 1

While fighting for her life in Colorado, friends and family back in Gillette got to work. With no insurance, it would take thousands of dollars to pay for the surgery. Fundraising events were organized and donations collected for an eventual total $90,000.

Then-Gov. Mike Sullivan even stepped in. Green qualified for Wyoming Medicaid, but Medicaid regulations did not pay for heart transplants. Sullivan helped temporarily lift the regulation for one month to make an exception to save her life.

“I was just reading through some old newspaper clippings and it's astounding,” she told Cowboy State Daily. “I don't think I've ever seen it since, where the community got together to raise $100,000 for somebody. All the radio stations, newspapers and the governor got involved, and so many people donated or helped with fundraisers.”

Green’s time was short, but just 10 days after she was admitted June 17, 1988, she received a new heart, and it came just in time. Doctors said she would have likely taken a turn for the worse and died within days. At the time, she was the youngest heart transplant recipient in Colorado.

After surgery, recovery was difficult for the 13-year-old. She not only had to deal with the pain, but also all the changes to her lifestyle the transplant put on her, including taking multiple medications to help prevent rejection. Green also was placed in a rehab program to help improve her physical condition.

“It was hard, because you come out of this surgery and it feels like you've been hit by a truck because you just had your chest broken open,” she said. “And then they're telling me how to take all these medications and that I need to get back in shape. I would say that was probably the hardest recovery because it was all new to me.”

Green had to remain in Denver for three months, but said it took nearly a year to get back to full strength. Once she returned home to Wyoming, she got back to school and to work to keep her grades up after being gone so long.

New Heart No. 2

Following her new regimen, Green’s health held steady for several years. She finished school and attended a year of community college before going to work full-time at Albertsons in 1993, grateful for the security the store’s insurance provided.

Green had to undergo monthly heart health checkups, and in 1995, doctors determined that her new heart was beginning to have some rejection issues and she was diagnosed with coronary artery disease.

“It's really typical of transplant patients to get coronary artery disease and they still don't really know why that is,” she said.

Green lived with the disease for 16 more years as it continued to progress. She worked at Albertsons until 2007, and later took a job with the Campbell County Sheriff’s Department as a detention deputy.

“At first I didn't notice [the disease], and then when I finally did start noticing it there were times I would wake up at night and couldn’t breathe very well,” she said. “And it just kept happening as my heart was getting worse.”

Eventually, doctors decided she needed to return to the transplant list in summer 2010. She’d been told for years that another transplant would need to happen, but said that there’s no way to fully prepare for when it actually does.

“I remember thinking, ‘Do I want to do this again?’ because the first time was so hard,” she said. “But you just have to ask yourself, ‘Do you want to live or do you want to die?’ I had a great job and I had great friends and great family, and so I wasn't ready to die.”

She moved into an apartment near the University of Colorado Hospital in Denver so she was ready when the call came, as recipients must be close to the hospital where the surgery will be performed. Because her health wasn’t as dire as before her first transplant, Green said she went in with a good mindset. She enjoyed time with friends while waiting, even attending some Colorado Rockies games, and later Denver Broncos games, as she recovered.

Doctors told Green it could take up to a year to get another heart, but after being placed on the list in May, it took just two months before the call came in late July.

“I've been pretty fortunate,” she said. “Because of my size — I’m more petite — it opens you up to more options. If you have a guy that’s 6 feet tall and 300 pounds, he has to have a heart that functions for his size, so the donor pool goes down. For me, I could take a woman or a child’s heart. That’s why I think it happened so fast.”

Because it was Green's second transplant, she had to undergo low-dose radiation treatment to keep her body from rejecting the new organ. After seven days, she left the hospital, but remained in Denver for another three months so that her condition could be monitored. She didn’t do rehab this time around, but created her own program to get back in shape.

“I recovered really quickly with that one, and I was back to work within three months,” she said.

Heart No. 3

Green enjoyed her newfound energy for a handful of years, but eventually coronary artery disease took hold again and her heart began to deteriorate, again. A little more than two years ago it was decided she would need a third transplant, just 10 years after receiving the second heart.

“This one did take me a little bit by surprise because my first heart lasted for a little over 20 years,” Green said. “But they did warn me that that was a good possibility because with each transplant you are at higher risk for rejection and other issues.”

Before the third transplant became necessary, she had a stent put in to keep blood flowing to her heart. However, other arteries were closing as well so she had another stent put in six months later. She said doctors expected her remaining arteries to continue to close up, so a new heart was the best option.

“Because it's all [the arteries] closing, the heart is just slowly going to start suffocating,” she said. “You can't get enough oxygen to pump blood.”

She was referred to the Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in California by her doctors in Colorado, because the Colorado hospital won’t do the surgery for a third heart transplant. With each transplant, the complications and risks involved rise.

If needing another heart transplant wasn’t enough, Green also needed a new kidney because the medication she’s taken for years to keep her heart healthy caused severe damage to other organs.

“They’d been declining for several years,” she said of her kidneys. “But by the time I had that transplant, my kidneys were getting worse, and so they decided that when they did the heart they were just going to do the kidneys because I was going to need it done soon anyway.”

Green stayed in California during the fall of 2022, going through tests to prove that there were no underlying conditions that could lead to death so she could be placed on the transplant list.

“I got a little bit frustrated because it was taking so much time,” she said. “Those tests prior had always been really, really quick for me, but in California their tests took so long.”

She also had to battle with her insurance company, which initially refused to cover the surgery. Green had to appeal three times before the company agreed.

“They didn't want to pay for it,” Green said. “They kept denying me, so I had to appeal three times before they said they would pay for it. That took extra time too.”

With the tests complete and the surgery approved, she was finally placed on the list in April 2023. During the preceding months though, Green’s condition worsened. She had trouble getting up and going short distances without losing her breath and her energy level was low. She was admitted to the hospital in May 2023 while she waited. Two months later on July 10, she received her third transplant.

“I feel really blessed,” she said. “It was in God's hands. I just made the decision that if God wanted me to have it, it would happen.”

Jenn Green recovers after her third heart transplant in July 2023 at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in California.
Jenn Green recovers after her third heart transplant in July 2023 at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in California. (Courtesy Jenn Green)

Advances In Science

Green has been amazed by how much science and technology has improved since 1988.

“When I got my first transplant, they told me I'd have maybe 15 extra years, and obviously I exceeded that,” she said. “Technologies and medications and research are making it so people can live longer. It's absolutely amazing and very interesting what they can do now. They just keep getting better all the time.”

She did rehab in California, but two of the biggest changes this time around have been diet and taking more time off. After her second surgery, she was back to work within three months. This time, her doctors recommended she take a year to get back to full strength. Green is taking their advice and has been going to the rec center in Gillette multiple times a week.

“It was probably the best, fastest recovery I've had,” she said. “In the past, I hadn’t changed my diet a whole lot, but this time I didn’t have any problems changing it and eating better. I just feel pretty good right now. There's a lot more energy.”

Green said she plans to go back to work once her year of recovery is complete, and is considering her options. Returning to the sheriff’s office is definitely a possibility, but she’s also always wanted to work with children and is thinking about following that path.

“In the past I have always come back pretty fast, and I think taking the time to heal correctly and get myself back to full strength without any stress or interruptions is important,” she said.

Living Her Best Life

There’s been moments of guilt and some dark thoughts along the way, but Green said she’s so grateful to her donors and has tried to live her best life to honor them.

“It's so great when people put that on their card or let their family know,” she said about organ donation. “They can save so many lives that way.”

There are many things her experiences have taught her.

She’s learned of the amazing generosity of her community, family and friends. She said her mom has been with her through the entire journey as her biggest supporter, visiting often during her second heart transplant and going with her during the third.

“And of course the support of the rest of my family and friends just cheering me on, making sure to keep my spirits up when I was in the hospital,” she added.

Green said there also have been lessons about the importance of health, eating the right foods and exercising.

She’s learned to enjoy life’s little pleasures, like feeling the sun on her face or taking a walk without getting winded.

“The most important thing I've learned is how much God has been watching over me,” she said. “He's really tested me for a long time, but now I'm at the point where I just feel really good about that.”

Green encourages others going through health difficulties who have questions, want to share their own stories and just need a shoulder to cry on to reach out. She can be contacted at 307-685-8005 or

“I would love to talk, share or just listen,” she said.

Share this article



Amber Steinmetz