With a new heart, she energized friends and family

By STEPHANIE HAYES, Times Staff Writer
Published November 21, 2007

SEMINOLE - Shara Himmel understood life and death at an age when most kids don't realize the latter is even possible.

At 5 weeks old, her heart failed the first time. At 4 years, she had a heart transplant.

Soon after, she learned of another little girl whose family was taking her off life support. Shara's mother, Pam Himmel, saw her daughter's face change. Was she upset that the girl was dying?

Shara put her hand on her heart. "No mom," she said. "Some other family did that for me."

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Shara was a fiery dynamo who made everyone laugh.

Once, on a country car trip, she narrated from the backseat like a breaking newscast. "Wait ... wait ... there's another cornstalk!"

She was smart, and graduated from St. Petersburg High's International Baccalaureate program. But she didn't stuff her nose in a book, unless it was Harry Potter.

Almost every summer, she went to camp at the Kent Community Jewish Center. She eventually became a counselor, gravitating toward kids with special needs. When she got to the University of Florida, she studied psychology and education.

Her hair had to be perfect. She loved to flash two thumbs-up. She gobbled mint ice cream with milk and chocolate syrup. Her room was a terrible mess, said her roommate, Kevin McQueen.

But for all the laughs, Shara was deep, too. She was committed to her faith, and once considered becoming a rabbi. She was a born counselor. "No matter what she was going through, I could call her with anything and know that I would be given a completely objective stance," said her friend Sarah Ogdie.

Shara loved Disney movies, especially Peter Pan, and the thought that anything is possible.

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Three years ago, it became clear that Shara would need another new heart.

In February, she entered Shands at the University of Florida at Gainesville. It became a new hangout for her friends. Between classes, they would play Monopoly and watch TV. When UF won the NCAA basketball championship, they watched in the hospital room. In May, she had transplant surgery.

Problems with the new heart came and went, but she kept on. Last week, she went to a party, a punk concert and Disney World with friends. It was chilly, but they rode Splash Mountain and got soaked.

"Let's do it again!" she said.

It makes it hard for everyone to accept - she seemed fine recently. But Friday, she went into the hospital and took a downturn. Sunday, she died. She was 19.

Her 20th birthday was just two weeks away, and her friends were planning a huge party.

The party will go on.

Stephanie Hayes can be reached at shayes@sptimes.com or 727 893-8857.


Shara Himmel

Born: Dec. 1, 1987

Died: Nov. 18, 2007

Survivors: Parents, Pam and Barry; sisters Tricia and Lisa; aunts, uncles and cousins Hallie, Shayna, Josh, Rachel and Becky.

Services: 11 a.m. today at Chapel Hill Memorial Park, 12905 Wild Acres Road, Largo.