Friday, January 30, 2015, at noon I celebrated a second birthday. I was also given a number, 1189… my Tampa General transplant number. I’ve received the gift of life on top of an already great life. I’m so grateful for both . Gifts don’t get any bigger than that. Typically, big gifts come from people we know, people we have a relationship with that give context to the gift. I’ll spend the rest of my life searching for the answer “why” attached to this gift. The most significant life altering gift I’ll ever receive came from a complete stranger with no expectations and no instructions. Despite that I have a deep sense of responsibility towards this gift of life I know I can never deserve. I’m having my Private Ryan moment receiving the instructions to “earn it”. God help me “earn it”, give me increasing clarity on how I’m to honor this gift.
Here’s the fun part. I was at the Florida DMV on Thursday getting my FL drivers license. I actually hung up on TGH twice then I realized that second call meant this was significant. I immediately received a call from Jami saying TGH had a heart for me. Here’s the cool part. While the calls were coming in I was explaining to the DMV why it was so important for me to be a organ donor. …sidenote, be an organ donor.
Within 20 minutes I was headed to TGH with my dad. Jami was working hard on her end booking a ticket for her and the girls at 2:30, on the plane at 3:20, and landing in Tampa at 8pm. I was waiting impatiently to get through admitting.
At this point a lot could still happen. Horror stories include having your number called only to find out that the heart had defects that could only be discerned by the surgeon inspecting the organ… one guy was called and prepped three different times before it was the “right” heart. I kept asking “are they close” to knowing if this was the heart for me. I found out later that they wouldn’t find out until I had a chest tube in me and they were ready to harvest the organ. The word harvest bugs me. It somehow removes the humanity, but it’s the word they use, and it includes a physical inspection with the surgeon running his/her hands along the organ to make sure there isn’t any disease that didn’t show up in all the other tests.
Around 6am on Friday I was wheeled into the OR… don’t remember anything else until I realized I was in the ICU with a new heart and lot of smiling faces around me. Dr. Hooker described it as a “beautiful heart”, and a perfect size even though it was the size of my fist and replacing a heart the size of a softball…room to roam. All we know is that the heart came from a female less than two hours away. The less time on ice the better. Have I mentioned how grateful I am to everyone that participated in my heart journey? From notes, calls prayers and Facebook posts to the medical staff here at TGH, my surgeon, Dr. Hooker, my cardiologist Dr. Arroyo, my parents, Jami and the girls, and of course the donor I’m so thankful for all the acts of love and talent that have been extended to me.
Post surgery there’s a lot of pain. I’m thankful that I’m recuperating as fast as I am. I’m feeling less pain now and everyday I slough off the vestiges of the last several years. First a heart that got over the finish line with a stainless steel pump attached to it and various controller tubes and wires attached to the controller and batteries outside my body, next the defibrillator, last came the chest drainage tubes, and a temporary defibrillator. All that’s left is a new heart, and a lot of holes (11 at last count), a sternum strapped together with wires… and a lot to think about.
I look a little high in the next pic, really grateful for drugs at this point too. :)
My Surgery was a week ago Friday. Today I’m up walking and looking at a Monday discharge. I get a lot of jaw dropping when they hear how short the time has been since implant. I love that. I had a sweet celebration on the phone today with Dr. Sharkey who took care of me since my diagnosis in 2006. He’s been the best example of brilliant and caring. He always gave me faith that we’d have a positive outcome. We have at least a month here in Tampa with rejection biopsies, a lot of education on medication, and healing. It’s not a bad place to wait.
Tampa out my TGH window.
Jami and Rico will be here. I’ll be Facetiming the girls everyday and looking at life from my new birthday.