It has expanded from Temple University Hospital, then the local pioneer, to the three other general hospitals in Philly that now do heart transplants - Thomas Jefferson University Hospital, the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania and Hahnemann University Hospital.
Relatively few patients actively participate these days, perhaps because information is so available online and general practitioners know more, too.
Those who attend the meetings say the group is the best source of the knowledge they need.
"Sometimes it is better to hear from someone that has experienced this than even the doctors," said Renard Petronzio, 76, of Gloucester Township, N.J. He got a new heart 13 years ago at Hahnemann.
Each chapter of Second Chance has its own personality, and each has changed over the years, in part as transplant teams moved from hospital to hospital. Most have speakers at monthly gatherings.
Hahnemann's may be the most active. Temple's has shrunk, along with the program. Jefferson's group meets irregularly. The chapter at HUP, by far the biggest heart-transplant program in the city, is the only one that is open to the general public. There are no chapters at the city's two pediatric hospitals, which have performed more than 300 heart transplants.
Sean Dukes has two perspectives on Second Chance. At 19, his heart damaged by a virus, the 6-foot-2 athlete was an anomaly in Temple's group in 1986: "These people to me were my parents and grandparents," he said. But they knew what he was going through.
By 2009, damage to his implanted heart from immunosuppressant drugs grew severe. He returned in bad shape from MIT, where Lockheed-Martin, his employer in Newtown, had sent him for an MBA. His second transplant was at HUP.
Dukes was physically robust again. And this time, he offered his support - as a fundraiser and leader, becoming vice chairman of the citywide group before stepping down because of his grueling travel schedule for work.
Over the years, the group has given out a total of $600,000 in small increments to patients in need. Reductions in hospitals' contributions have cut the individual grants in half, to $300. It's not much, with medications costing an average of $2,000 a month. "The fact of the matter is, it's better than zero," said Dukes, 46.
The big fundraiser, a dinner dance, is set for May 5 at Cottage Green in the Northeast. The tradition goes back to the beginning, when Ernie Schiff used to carve wooden hearts for each table. He died in 1995; his wife, Anne, continued working with the group, which has about 900 members, until moving to Florida in 2004.
Earlier this month, Jim Gleason, a 69-year-old transplant recipient and Second Chance's treasurer, was talking with a patient and his family, who had asked for guidance as they waited for a heart. By definition, transplant patients are very sick; some have been for a while.
Gleason's mission: "To give them a living example of what life can be after a transplant." And to challenge them: "How are you going to live that life?"
Seven years after retiring from Unysis Corp., in Blue Bell, Gleason has devoted his life to "paying it forward in gratitude."
He's on the board of the United Network for Organ Sharing, which manages transplants nationwide. His online book about his experience has grown to more than 1,000 pages of information and inspiration.
Several years ago, Gleason, of Edgewater Park, Burlington County, got a call that nearly every transplant recipient dreams about, but few receive. The caller had read his book, A Gift from the Heart. The caller's brother, Roberto Cuebas, had been beaten with a baseball bat on his 38th birthday in Brooklyn, N.Y., and died after eight days in a coma.
His heart had been sent to Philadelphia on Oct. 19, 1994, the day that Gleason got a new life.
Cuebas had never mentioned organ donation; it was his brother who rallied the family.
Gleason asked him why.
" 'My brother Roberto was a giving person.' " he told Gleason. " 'I worked in a hospital and saw the need. And what could I do: Just bury his organs in the ground when I can save somebody's life?' "
For more information:
Second Chance: Details about the Second Chance Heart Transplant Support Group Inc. fundraiser, chapters, and meetings: schtsgi.com/wordpress or 609-799-1498.
A Gift From the Heart: Jim Gleason's free, online-only book: gleasonjim.wordpress.com
Organ donation: Gift of Life coordinates transplants in Eatern Pennsylvania, South Jersey, and Delaware: www.donors1.org or 1-800-366-6771
Contact Don Sapatkin at 215-854-2617 or email@example.com.