Authorities say a man who received a heart transplant 12 years ago and later married the donor’s widow died of a self-inflicted gunshot wound, just like the donor.
Investigators found no evidence of foul play in the death of 69-year-old Sonny Graham at his Vidalia, Ga., home. According to Greg Harvey, a special agent with the Georgia Bureau of Investigation, he was found Tuesday in a utility building in his backyard with a single shotgun wound to the throat.
Graham, who was the director of the Heritage golf tournament at Sea Pines from 1979 to 1983, was on the verge of heart failure when he received a call in 1995 that a heart was available in Charleston.
According to Berkeley County Coroner Glenn Rhoad, the heart belonged to Terry Cottle, 33, who had shot himself.
Graham began writing letters to the donor’s family to express his gratitude for his new heart. Graham met his donor’s widow, Cheryl Cottle, then 28, in Charleston in January 1997.
Graham told The (Hilton Head) Island Packet for a storey in 2006, “I felt like I had known her for years.” “I couldn’t take my gaze away from her. I just stood there and stared.”
Graham purchased a home in Vidalia for Cottle and her four children in 2001. After Graham retired from his job as a plant manager for Hargray Communications in Hilton Head, they married three years later.
The couple had six children and six grandchildren from previous marriages spread across South Carolina and Georgia.
Cheryl Graham, now 39, has worked at a number of Vidalia hospices. Cheryl and Sonny Graham’s phone number in Vidalia were not returned when a message was left for them on Sunday.
Friends said Sonny Graham would be remembered for his willingness to help others.
“Every time someone had a problem, the first thing they did was call Sonny Graham,” said Bill Carson, Graham’s longtime friend. “It didn’t matter if you were stuck on the side of the road with a flat tyre or if your washing machine was broken. He didn’t even need to know who you were to assist you.”