4 MiraclesMost people in the US celebrate July fourth as the birthday of our nation. I also celebrate that date as my rebirth date. You see, on that date I was given the gift of life by a very generous donor. It is the thoughtfulness of the donors and their families who should be honored on this occasion. At the time of our transplants all of us recipients were merely along for the ride - the ride of our lives. Think of it. We ride the gurney to the ambulance, ambulance to hospital, gurney to operating room, to intensive care, etc. I didn’t know what was going on – I was just along for the ride. After the heart attack when I was finally released from the hospital I requested that I be allowed to walk out rather than ride the wheel chair. Since I was essentially dead when I was brought in I wanted to say I was a ‘dead man walking.’
My heart attack was without warning or symptoms and totally deadly. Some call it the ‘widow maker.’ I often tell people of my four miracles. (1) One morning in August 2003 as I was preparing to wash my car I had a premonition and went inside to have my wife call 911. There were no symptoms, no pain, no history, nothing, just that feeling. (2) In 2016 I met the fireman who was first in the door. He told me that I was sitting on the sofa and he asked me how I was doing. The next words out of his mouth were, “oh s—t, get the bag.’ It took six shock applications by paramedics to stabilize me enough for transport. I was told that my troponin level was measured at over 2300 where 700 is considered fatal. Even the head cardiologist at the transplant hospital admitted he had never seen one so bad. (3) To me a heart transplant is a miracle, not just because of the surgical procedure but because of all the other medicinal and care considerations. Think of it as the perfect storm of medical technology. Doctors have to have the right equipment, the right skills and experience. They have determine what medication combination to give, how much and when. They have to identify any problems and determine what to do to fix them. (4) The organ donor/recipient matching search centers at the donor’s home and continues in increasing circles from 500 to 1000 miles until a match is found. St Louis is nearly 900 miles from Denver (my donor’s service center). To me it is a miracle that I was the match out of all the potential needs, especially given the transport time and distance restrictions. I have been given the honor of knowing my donor family. Miraculously, she had told her parents of her desire to donate only two weeks before her tragedy.
I am sure that many of us wonder why this happened to me, why did I survive and what am I to do. The doctors in my case cannot determine a cause for the blockage which caused the damage as my health condition would not suggest a cause. They cannot identify a reason for my survival as the damage was significantly and deadly severe. Some suggest that I had a strong will to survive to which I respond – I was just along for the ride.
I am honored by knowing and meeting my donor family. Several years ago I met a man whose daughter became a heart donor. He mentioned that he had discovered to whom the heart was rededicated. When I asked how the recipient was doing, his response was, ‘you know how some kids don’t keep up with their medication.’ I could sense the sadness in his voice. It is important to me that my donor family know that their daughter’s heart continues to live. You notice how I used the term, rededicated. I chose this rather than collected, harvested recovered or some such because I feel that previously her heart was dedicated to keeping her alive and now it is rededicated to keeping me alive.
People often say that, ‘if I could change even just one life it would all be worth it.’ Every year I tell my miracle story to several 5th grade school classes. Recently the parents of one of those students told me that their son, who had been in my class three years before, still remembered my name and my story, so much so that he wanted to become a cardiologist. Maybe he will be the one to make significant discoveries in heart care.
The whole experience of nearly dying and being reborn has given me as well as others the validity to empathize rather than just sympathize with people. They know I/we have walked in their shoes and that my/our words to them are truly heartfelt and meaningful. I may not have had cancer, for example, but I have experienced a life threatening situation. With this mandate it is now my and our responsibility to make sure that others know that they are not alone.
All of us recipients have been given a wonderful gift – that of life. We all know that that gift comes with significant responsibilities, to reaffirm the donor’s decision and to provide hope to others. These two honors now guide my life and my efforts.