ROCHESTER, Minn. - At Mayo Clinic's Gift of Life Transplant Home, life is exactly how it is supposed to be for Jessica Danielson, 30, of Duluth.
She finds a measure of joy in every step. Wednesday, its baking muffins in the warmth of a kitchen while enjoying the comfort of a new friend.
"There is nobody else like Nancy," said Danielson, "Nobody else I know."
Until a few months ago, it seemed nobody else understood what Jessica was going through, until she met Nancy Galligo, also of Rochester.
Before you can understand their deep bond, you have to go back to when Danielson's health struggles began at age 19.
She was diagnosed with restrictive cardio myopathy, which means her heart doesn't relax fully between beats and fills with flood. The condition led to congestive heart failure. Doctors at Mayo Clinic say her lifesaving heart-liver transplant is only seen at the hospital around twice a year, and a six month wait wouldn't be unusual for the rare procedure, because both organs have to come from the same person.
Doctors told her she couldn't leave the walls of Mayo Clinic until she received a new heart and liver. She was admitted two weeks before Christmas in 2011.
"The 18th of June is a new birthday. It's the birth of my new life, you know?" she said.
Danielson came close to death during the transplant after complications.
When her journey was featured on ABC Nightline, Nancy Galligo reached out. She was living nearby in Rochester, thriving after receiving the same double transplant eight years ago.
"Some people say they understand, but I do understand. This has happened to me," said Galligo.
"It was the exact same disease, same transplant, and exact same age -- everything." said Danielson. "Someone had to die for us to live. It's a fact of the matter, and it's hard to deal with."
Danielson and Galligo are inseparable, healing side by side, and forever indebted to donors they'll never know.
"I think about her every day of my life. I feel her, every day of my life, beating in my chest, keeping me alive. I wonder if she was a fashionista because I like fashion now if she never did before. I wonder what kind of person she was. Would we have gotten along? Would we have been friends? She was 21 years old when she passed away, so young," said Danielson.
To date, the friends say only 132 people in the U.S. have had the same transplant, but two women bonded by the same disease and same remarkable recovery is even rarer. You'd have to look even further to find a friendship of their condition.
"We have a lot of plans together. We talk about writing a book and going on vacation," they said.
Danielson will soon return home to Duluth where she hopes to return to her job in television production at WDIO-TV. She hopes her story will remind many about the importance of organ donation.
"When you are fighting for your life, keep in mind, if you picture that future, you can reach it," she said.
According to LifeSource, more than 2,800 people in the Upper Midwest are waiting for a transplant. Statistics show that nationally, 18 people a day die waiting for a transplant.
For more information about organ donation, visit donatelifemn.org, or nationally, donatelife.net.
(Copyright 2012 by KARE. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)