After Terry Cottle killed himself more than 12 years ago, his heart beat on in Sonny Graham. Grateful for the transplant that saved his...
HILTON HEAD, S.C. — After Terry Cottle killed himself more than 12 years ago, his heart beat on in Sonny Graham.
Grateful for the transplant that saved his life, Graham, a former Hilton Head Island resident, wrote to thank the Cottle family. Through that correspondence, he met Cheryl Cottle, his donor’s widow. Then the unexpected happened — they fell in love and married.
Last week, the unexpected happened again, when Graham’s life ended the same way Terry Cottle’s did.
On Tuesday, Graham took his own life at his home in Vidalia, Ga. He was 69.
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He was found with a single gunshot wound to the throat, said Greg Harvey, a special agent working the case for the Georgia Bureau of Investigation. He was found in a utility building in his backyard and had used a shotgun, Harvey said.
A medical examiner in Savannah performed an autopsy Wednesday. No foul play is suspected.
On Friday, a memorial service was held in Lyons, Ga. The heart that gave two men life was finally laid to rest.
The story began in 1995 when doctors put Graham, who was on the verge of congestive heart failure, on a transplant list.
That same year, Cheryl Graham’s first husband, Terry Cottle, shot himself in the couple’s Summerville, S.C., home, said Berkeley County Coroner Glenn Rhoad.
Rhoad said Cottle was on life support at the Medical University of South Carolina in Charleston, so his organs could be donated.
Graham got a call from the hospital when Cottle was taken off life support. He rushed to Charleston, where doctors transplanted the heart later that day. When he was released nine days later, Graham didn’t know the donor’s identity. He knew only that the heart that saved his life came from a 33-year-old South Carolina man.
Then, in late 1996, Graham wanted to thank his donor’s family for their gift of life. He connected with the Cottle family after an exchange of letters through the organ-donation agency.
Graham and widow Cheryl Cottle, then 28, corresponded for two months and met in Charleston in January 1997.
They married in 2004 — three years after Graham bought Cottle and her four children a home in Vidalia, about 130 miles west of his Hilton Head home.
Between their previous marriages, the couple had six children and six grandchildren scattered across South Carolina and Georgia.
Graham retired from his job as a plant manager for Hargray Communications — he was one of the original employees at the Hilton Head branch — in 2003, and left Hilton Head to move in with Cheryl in Vidalia. Cheryl Graham, now 39, has worked at several Vidalia hospices and is currently employed at Serenity Hospice.
She could not be reached for comment for this story.
Graham, a Georgia native, moved to Hilton Head in the mid-1960s, living in Hilton Head Plantation for most of the time since.
His friends said Graham was a well-rounded person who had many interests — hunting, cooking, playing sports and helping raise money for Hilton Head High School. He was always willing to help, no matter the circumstances, they said.
“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.”