NEMAH — While sitting down with Sherry Pine-Wiss and Debbie Bennett-Wiss, it’s easy to get lost in conversation as the pair banters and shares old family stories.
Conversation topics move seamlessly from funny parenting lessons to battle stories about living with Sherry’s ‘ornery’ cat (he’s bitten visitors a time or two). But lately, the two have another topic to discuss: Sherry’s preparing for heart transplant surgery.
Sherry is a lifelong resident of north county. After growing up in Bay Center and graduating from South Bend High School, Sherry lived in Nemah, where she raised her family. She still lives in the family’s home.
Sherry married her husband Louis, known as “Butch,” in 1977. Together, they had two sons. Butch also had four other children from a previous marriage.
Sherry and Butch were married for 40 years, until Butch died in December 2017.
Around the time of Butch’s death, Sherry’s health also started to decline. She’s since lost over 60 pounds and relies on a machine to keep her body working.
“She’s fought her way to get good enough for a heart transplant,” Debbie said. “In the last two years, she’s gone through so much with losing her husband and having to deal with that. And her health already wasn’t good.”
Debbie is one of many Wiss family members rallying around Sherry. The two met around 1965 when Sherry babysat Debbie, and have stayed close.
In 1976, Debbie married Butch’s brother Ed. Debbie and Sherry became sisters-in-law after Sherry’s 1977 wedding.
“People always think that we’re sisters who married brothers,” Debbie joked.
Sherry received a left ventricular assist device (LVAD) during surgery on May 30, 2019. The LVAD is a battery-operated machine that mimics a heart by pumping blood. The machine is used for patients whose hearts have failed.
“The doctors call the machine a bridge from where I was to where I am,” Sherry said.
At the time, doctors estimated Sherry would only live six more months. The end of January will mark Sherry’s eight-month mark after the surgery. She’s since been referred to the University of Washington’s Heart Institute for a transplant.
“The LVAD has made her good enough for a heart transplant,” Debbie said. “She’s so much better than she was eight months ago. The heart transplant is the next best step.”
Sherry will either go to Seattle or Portland for the procedure. When doctors are ready and able to complete the surgery, she’ll have six hours to get to the hospital.
“We don’t know when or where it’s going to happen but we know it’s going to get done,” Debbie said. “We’ll do whatever we need to.”
In the coming months, Sherry will temporarily move into her son Matt’s home in Rochester, which is about an hour-and-a-half from both Seattle and Portland. The move will give Sherry a quicker transit time to drive to the hospital.
Sherry might drive herself, depending on when the call comes. If she’s home alone, she’ll make the drive on her own and call her family to meet her there.
“My worry is she’s going to get worried on the drive,” Debbie said.
“Nope. I’ll be fine and ready,” Sherry replied.
Sherry, who's independent nature is obvious from a mile away, has continued to take care of herself throughout the last two years. She still drives herself around and lives alone. Sherry also doesn’t depend on her family members to care for her; she’s taken on tasks like replacing her LVAD’s battery pack and talking to doctors.
“I love her attitude. She makes everyone listen, respond and give clear answers,” Debbie said. “We need to know why things are being done and she makes that happen.”
After surgery, Sherry is supposed to stay in the hospital for three to six months.
“I’m staying two to four,” Sherry said.
At face value, that may not seem doable, but with Sherry, it is. During a previous hospital stay, she convinced doctors to let her go home earlier than they had planned. Before her LVAD surgery, she made sure her doctors scheduled appointments around Sherry’s granddaughter’s high school graduation.
“I told the doctors, ‘In June, my granddaughter is graduating high school. You need to move your schedule around it. Come hell or high water, I’m getting to that graduation,’” Sherry said.
Once she’s released from the hospital, Sherry will have to live in temporary housing near the hospital as she heals and attends twice-weekly checkups. So far, the least inexpensive option Sherry and Debbie have found would be at least $1,700 per month.
Sherry is required to stay near the hospital after the surgery in case any complications arise. Debbie and Sherry’s sisters will take turns acting as Sherry’s caregiver.
“So far, this has all cost over $1 million in bills. At the end of this, I’ll be a $1 million dollar baby!” Sherry joked.
Most of Sherry’s medical costs have been covered by her insurance. However, she needs help to pay for travel, food, housing and other surgery-related costs.
A crab and oyster dinner will be held to raise funds for Sherry’s heart transplant at 5 p.m. on Saturday, Jan. 25 in the Nemah Community Center. The fundraiser costs $20 per adult and $10 per child 12 years old and younger.
The fundraiser will include a silent auction and raffle featuring thousands of dollars worth of donated items.
“It’s been just amazing with this fundraiser,” Debbie said. “I’ve been blown away. I don’t even know some of these people. They’re pitching in simply because she needs it.”
Crab, oysters and a cake have been donated to the event. The silent auction will include items such as a homemade knife, a basket of homemade bread, paintings, an autographed Mariners baseball, and a charter fishing trip.
“I’m amazed at how many people have come forward offering to help,” Sherry said. “We’re getting a lot.”