Suicide Links Heart Donor, Recipient
HILTON HEAD ISLAND, S.C. (AP) — A man who received a heart transplant 12 years ago and later married the donor's widow died the same way the donor did, authorities said: of a self-inflicted gunshot wound.
No foul play was suspected in 69-year-old Sonny Graham's death at his Vidalia, Ga., home, investigators said. He was found Tuesday in a utility building in his backyard with a single shotgun wound to the throat, said Greg Harvey, a special agent with the Georgia Bureau of Investigation.
Graham, who was director of the Heritage golf tournament at Sea Pines from 1979 to 1983, was on the verge of congestive heart failure in 1995 when he got a call that a heart was available in Charleston.
That heart was from Terry Cottle, 33, who had shot himself, Berkeley County Coroner Glenn Rhoad said.
Grateful for his new heart, Graham began writing letters to the donor's family to thank them. In January 1997, Graham met his donor's widow, Cheryl Cottle, then 28, in Charleston.
"I felt like I had known her for years," Graham told The (Hilton Head) Island Packet for a story in 2006. "I couldn't keep my eyes off her. I just stared."
In 2001, Graham bought a home for Cottle and her four children in Vidalia. Three years later, they were married after Graham retired from his job as a plant manager for Hargray Communications in Hilton Head.
From their previous marriages, the couple had six children and six grandchildren scattered across South Carolina and Georgia.
Cheryl Graham, now 39, has worked at several hospices in Vidalia. A telephone message left Sunday at a listing for Cheryl and Sonny Graham in Vidalia was not immediately returned.
Sonny Graham's friends said he would be remembered for his willingness to help people.
"Any time someone had a problem, the first reaction was, 'Call Sonny Graham,' " said Bill Carson, Graham's friend for more than 40 years. "It didn't matter whether you had a flat tire on the side of the road or your washing machine didn't work. He didn't even have to know you to help you."