COLUMBIA -- Three South Carolina families are especially thankful this holiday season.
Relatives of Judy Holladay, Randy Wheeler, and Barry Hurley celebrated Thanksgiving Day knowing how tragic this last year could have been. The families are thankful for a heroic stranger, a lifesaving transplant and an unexpected recovery.
Eleven months ago, Ms. Holladay's life took a drastic turn as she jogged around Harbison Lake with her cocker spaniel, Duchess. Ms. Holladay, a high school career counselor, had a seizure and passed out, rolling face first into the pond.
University of South Carolina graduate student Rachel Kraus, who was studying nearby, plunged into the freezing water and pulled her out.
Ms. Holladay, whose body temperature fell to 71 degrees, suffered severe bronchitis and spent four days in the hospital.
Now back at work and running again, Ms. Holladay recently sent Ms. Kraus a porcelain praying angel figurine. She plans to give her an angel every year on Dec. 11, the anniversary of her accident.
Ms. Kraus, 23, is finishing up her master's degree in public administration. She will return next month to her home state of Ohio to pursue a doctorate in sociology. She doesn't think she's a hero.
"I don't think I did anything that anyone else wouldn't have done," she said.
Former USC offensive tackle Mr. Wheeler, recovering at Florence's HealthSouth Rehabilitation Hospital after a near-fatal car crash three months ago, is thankful he'll be home soon.
Mr. Wheeler hopes to be out of the hospital in time for the birth of his son, due Dec. 18.
Doctors initially said Mr. Wheeler would spend the rest of his life as a quadriplegic after his Ford Explorer skidded during a Florida thunderstorm. The Hartsville native was on his way to training camp with the Miami Dolphins.
An unsinkable attitude, pool therapy and modified weight training have helped Mr. Wheeler regain a firm handshake. He should be able to cradle his first child, to be named Randy Eugene Wheeler III.
"I am looking forward to being able to take care of my little boy and to be able to fit back into the real world, outside the hospital," he said.
In typically optimistic fashion, Mr. Hurley makes light of the heart transplant that gave him a new lease on life a year ago.
After spending months on the transplant waiting list, Mr. Hurley, 57, collapsed at his West Columbia home Nov. 26, 1997.
The fast action of his wife, Mila, and a team of dedicated doctors and nurses from Columbia and Charleston saved his life.
"I just wasn't ready to go. There's not a night that goes by that I don't thank God for all the wonderful people that helped and prayed for me," said Mr. Hurley, a retired travel agent. "It's hard not to have a teary eye thinking about it."
Timing, said Hurley's cardiologist in Columbia, Dr. Donald Alexander, is the most important factor in transplants. Mr. Hurley got lucky. When he couldn't wait any longer, a heart became available.