For a recent heart transplant recipient, the sudden attention felt like it was going to be too much to take.
But Allyson Gamble had confidence in Gabriela Caballero — the young girl from Paraguay who died in Park City more than a year ago and became the heart donor that allowed Gamble to be present and honored publicly in Gov. Gary Herbert’s State of the State address Wednesday night.
"It was surreal," Gamble said. "I felt my heart racing and I started to get nervous."
Herbert chose to single out Gamble in his remarks as a way to highlight a Utah medical company that designed a device that helped relieve the pressure on the 44-year-old’s heart. But it was also a nod to a member of the political family on Capitol Hill.
Gamble has been the executive director of the Capitol Preservation Board since 2010 and she was working right up until the minute Herbert entered the chamber to address the senators and representatives.
Embattled Attorney General John Swallow needed help to find where he was supposed to sit, so she pointed him to a row of chairs where the Utah Supreme Court justices sat along with Utah Auditor John Dougall. She made sure security was standing at the doors. She rushed around trying to make sure the reception went well after the remarks. She said she’d work until the Capitol was cleaned up and ready for business the next day.
But she spent some time with her 11-year-old son and husband Jim above the House floor. Her son, Ben, stood proudly in a new suit and said it was "an honor" to hear Herbert say his mom’s name during the speech. However, when asked if he’d tell his friends about it, the boy was less enthusiastic.
"Nah, probably not," he said.
Gamble’s story was chronicled in The Tribune after her body spent a year adjusting to her second heart transplant — the result of a bad flu earlier in her life that set her organ into rebellion against her body.
When she got the heart from Caballero, a young 25-year-old with dark hair and brown eyes that had been working at Canyons Ski Resort before being struck and killed as she tried to cross a dark highway in December 2011, Gamble met the organ donor’s family.
Through an emotional reunion and email exchanges on Facebook, the families grew close and forged a bond tied together by Gabriela — also known as Gabi.
Herbert decided to single out Gamble in his speech Wednesday morning.
"She is the remarkable survivor of two heart transplants," Herbert said to applause. "We are so grateful Allyson is here today.
Gamble said Caballero’s mother, Mirta Lopez, had told her that young Gabi had always wanted to work in a government building. Gamble said she thought a lot about that working at the Capitol — but especially on Wednesday.
"For me, I carry Gabi around with me every day," Gamble said. "I’ve taken special times throughout the day and just thanked her."
Copyright 2014 The Salt Lake Tribune. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.