I was a very active and busy full time practicing psychiatrist in excellent health for 21 years prior to developing heart failure. This forced me to close my practice. I had enjoyed family, swimming, mountain biking, scuba diving and boating.
My symptoms began in 2010 with fatigue and some shortness of breath when walking rapidly or up hills. I was able to swim 1.2 miles 2 weeks before acute onset of congestive heart failure..
In May of 2011, I had a routine elective surgery and in the recovery room went into complete heart block (short circuiting of the hearts electrical system) and subsequently developed severe congestive heart failure.
Initially, I was diagnosed with a rare genetic condition, which posed a risk that my two sons could be afflicted.
I had to have a pacemaker and implantable cardioverter-defibrillator placed and was treated with a number of different medications.
Within 6 months I had progressed to end stage heart failure, and I was told there was nothing else that could be done for me to live except a heart transplant.
The day before my transplant evaluation, I experienced a brief loss of vision in my left eye and the next day my transplant evaluation revealed a severe cardiomyopathy and blood clots in both ventricles. I was immediately admitted to University of Kentucky Medical Center.
Due to the severity of my heart condition, I was placed at the top of heart transplant waiting list on Thanksgiving Day 2011. I spent my 50th birthday, Christmas Eve and Christmas Day in the hospital waiting.
On December 26, 2011 my life was saved through the altruistic and unselfish act of Organ Donation. By mid-afternoon that day, I was taken to pre op with my wife and boys by my side. The anesthesiologist and his assistant said a prayer at my request before I was taken to the operating room.
Later that evening I remember awakening and being intubated with my wife at my side. I was breathing well enough on my own that the endotracheal tube was immediately removed. I will never forget that first breath. I immediately knew I had a new heart as I could breathe so deep and effortlessly.
On the third day after surgery I was able to walk a mile around the hospital.
On January 4, 2012 I was discharged home and have not been hospitalized since.
I started cardiac rehab one month after my heart transplant and completed it 6 months later.
It turned out that I did not have the rare cardiac condition that could have afflicted my sons, but rather another rare condition known as cardiac sarcoidosis.
Although I may never return to the full time practice of medicine, I am alive and have the privilege and honor of being with my wife and guiding my teenage sons into adulthood. I am walking and swimming on a regular basis. I have been able to return to mountain biking and plan on boating and scuba diving.
Four months before developing heart failure, I officially became a registered organ donor when renewing my driver’s license by joining the Kentucky Donor Registry. One can also obtain accurate information and become an organ donor at www.donatelifeky.org, as well as when renewing one’s driver’s license
The decision to donate has saved and restored my life and so we have to acknowledge, respect and be indebted to the donor and/or individuals making this life saving decision. Many people continue to die in this country each day while waiting for lifesaving organ transplants due to a shortage of organ donors including in the state of Kentucky.
Please do your part to save lives as was done for me by educating yourself and becoming an organ donor at www.donatelifeky.org or by saying Yes to joining the Registry next time you renew your license.
Dr. Charles Shelton