Erin McLeod is recovering from cancer and a heart transplant.
CONYERS, Ga -- A community is stepping up for a young Conyers girl who is recovering from a heart transplant. Erin McLeod, 13, received a new heart on Valentine's Day this year.
People in the community and a local Johnny's Pizza at 2445 Salem Road, Conyers are holding a fund raiser from noon to 3PM Sunday.
Erin spoke to 11 Alive News reporter Kevin Rowson at the pizzeria Friday where she shared some pizza with friends. It's what Erin said she missed most for the past 14 months. "The hardest thing is getting used to being normal again," she said. "You know, going back to school, doing normal things, what a normal teenager would do."
Normal was interrupted in March 2011 when Erin was diagnosed with cancer in her right leg. After 18-months of chemotherapy and surgery she was found cancer free last December. "When I was in chemo I did not realize how close I was to dying until now," she said.
As if the cancer wasn't enough, the chemotherapy took a toll on her heart which was operating at about one-fifth a normal heart. On Valentine's Day she received a new one. Erin said she feels ten times better than when we last talked to her the day after surgery.
Valentine's Day: Erin gets a heart
She said she has set goals for herself. "My first goal is to completely walk, completely normal," she said. "Then my second goal is to go to school for a whole entire year."
To reach those goals is a financial burden on her family and that's why the Conyers community and Johnny's are holding "Erin's Big Day" on Sunday. The restaurant will donate 20-percent of their proceeds to Erin and several businesses have donated prizes for raffles.
Johnny's owner Suzanne McLean said holding the fund raiser at the pizzeria was a no-brainer. "I said we're going to make this one a whole lot bigger and better and more successful than any other fund raiser we've done," she said.
Erin's transplant hit close to home for McLean and her husband and co-owner Michael. "My husband is also a transplant receiver," she said. "He's had two kidney transplants."
Erin and her family couldn't be more grateful. "It's just an awesome feeling inside when people do stuff for you even if you don't ask for it," Erin said. "It's just amazing."
Erin said she has learned to value life one day at a time. Though she is physically trying to catch up to her friends through rehab, she is years ahead of them emotionally and maturely because of what she has been through. "Now I understand that life is no joke," she said.
You can follow Kevin on Twitter @kgrowson