“We have a heart for you,” Doctor S. said on September 24, 2017, a few hours before midnight.
It had been nearly a year since I almost died and was offered this heart. I came out of a coma after nearly a month, bearded, hands strapped to the side of the bed, tubes everywhere, weak, emaciated, exhausted, confused and surrounded by machines. I had no memory of what had happened. My ex wife, who is my close friend, and my son were at my side. Why, I thought? What had happened to me? I was a healthy man, took care of myself, ate well, and was fit. I had been taken care of while in a coma by just a few nurses and doctors, who, as I grew stronger, told me that I needed a heart. I accepted what had happened, and physically and mentally prepared over the course of the next year. My life had changed, but I still had one. I lived in the moment, not allowing my peace to be compromised by what might, or might not happen. I knew that not everyone received the gift of life in time. After all, there is a list. A tragedy must occur for each person ahead of me to make way for a transplant, if I were to get one.
When Dr. S told me that there was a heart for me, I knew that my long wait was over. I knew that I would soon get out of the hospital and get on with my life. Never had I felt such mixed emotions; relief, combined with the fact that I would survive only because another had lost his life. One tragedy occurs, and another tragedy, a loss of my life, would be avoided. As I thought that I would receive the gift of life, I knew that a life had been lost, and that the donor, or his family, had been generous and strong, providing the gift of life to me. They were facing the worst day of their life, but saw their way to provide the gift of life to a man whom they had never met; the most precious gift I had been given since the day my son was born. I thought of the birth of my son, while someone faced the loss of theirs. I could not be euphoric. I knew the cost of my gift. Just before I was taken to surgery, all the nurses and staff from the floor came to my room. We held hands and prayed, not just for me, but for the donor and his family.
I promised myself that I would take care of that gift. When people ask how I am, my response is, “Living the dream.” I am alive. I am grateful. And I think of my unknown donor every day. Life as a transplant survivor is nothing like I had ever imagined. It is strange to have a heart beat in me, that kept another alive for years, until some tragedy struck. No one can feel it, not even the doctors who put this heart in me. The other survivors do. And they are all grateful to the donor and donor who is keeping them alive.
Thank you, whoever you are. Would you know my name if I saw you in heaven?