|I was 5 weeks away from graduating from college when I was told I had 5 years to live. Not the message a 52 year old wanted to here. The cardiologist said I had cardio-myopathy, and enlarged heart. Over the next 4 years I continued to get weaker and weaker as my heart became longer and longer. It took two years for my heart injection fraction to get to 20, the required threshold for listing. Over the next two years I watched my numbers get lower and lower and I got weaker and weaker. By September of 1999 my injection fraction was below 14 and my time was running out. In early September I got a call from the transplant center in Nashville, the VA at Vanderbilt, that they had a heart for me but soon called back to say I wasn’t a good match. A heart transplant requires that both recipient and donor be of the same blood type, similar antigen numbers, similar size, and other biological characteristic. I was crushed. But a week later on September 20th I got a call from Teri Donaldson, my transplant nurse that they had a good match: get to Nashville ASAP.
We had already made plans: call the Life-flights, all my driver, call our daughter and other family, call our minister and recall Nashville and asking them to not give the heart away. It took a precious hour to get a commitment from a life-support carrier. My best friend took my wife and me to the airport at Huntington WV, closest to our Grayson KY home. The flight took 53 minutes where we were met with an ambulance on the tarmac. A terrifying 12 minute ride brought us to Vanderbilt at about 9:30 where I was soon prepared for surgery.
The surgery was from 2am to 4:20 am, the shortest in history to that point. I was awake at about 8am, and wanting to shave and importantly start to get some of the IV’s, wires, tubes, hoses and other devices off. I was out in 7 days but had to stay in Nashville for another 6 weeks to have biopsies, blood tests, and physical therapy. I walked a lot, in fact I started walking on the second day after transplant and was walking 3 miles a day thereafter.
Over the 15 years since I have had several problems, but many more good times. I met my donor family I carried the torch representing Kentucky for the winter Olympics and met hundreds of great people. I’ve spoke on organ donation for KODA at universities, high schools, grade schools churches and civic groups. I am a firm believer on organ donation and understand what it is like to be a donor family as my son-in-law died at 25 in 2000.