On May 24, 2010 I underwent one of the most serious of all operations, a heart transplant. This is my story and I hope that many black men and women will read this and do whatever is necessary to LIVE.
I am 61years now but over 15 years ago I suffered my first heart attack. I say first because there were others years after. When this was made known to me that, this is why I had lost some strength and endurance to perform many tasks such as cutting the lawn and struggling with walking up hills, my life changed. In addition, my list of activities started to decrease through the years which meant that my world as I knew it was diminishing. Prior to that there were not any symptoms that made me believe otherwise except to know the facts. The facts were in my family line. Both my father and paternal grandmother died very early in life due to heart failure. My father died at the young age of 49 and my grandmother died in her late 30’s. I do know that my father had a heart attack a year prior to his death but failed to get medical help that might have prolonged his life. This happened in 1962, which is approximately 49 years from today. Much has changed since 1962. Unlike my dad, I was able to be under a cardiologist who prescribed medication to prolong my life, which by then involved diabetes, and high blood pressure, which are the most damaging diseases to heart patients.
When diagnosed, the doctors first performed a stress test, which proved my heart had undergone this trauma and then an angiogram as well as a test to check (electro physiology study) if my heart’s electrical system was still working. The electrical test was to see if I had arrhythmia, an irregular heart beat that would eventually cause another heart attack. At this point I had not had an actual heart attack that I know of because other than having the flue three (3) straight times, there were not any signs that I could then or now say indicated heart failure. In 2002 my cardiologist suggested that I have a defibrillator implanted in my chest. This device would give out an electrical shock that would jump start my heart in the event that it would go into defibrillation or unable to have regular heart rhythms like normal hearts. I went six (6) years and two defibrillators before August of 2009. At that time, I received the shock of my life, the device went off while I was on my knees saying my morning prayers. It felt as if a mule had kicked me in my chest and I hoped to God that it would not happen again, but it did. For a matter of fact, the device pounded my chest four (4) different times prior to my being admitted into the hospital. One of the many blessings that I received was that my cardiologist had me register for a new heart with UCLA’s heart center just in case I would need a transplant down the line.
After the first incident, I contacted my doctor who prescribed another medication to help relax my heart, which it did. It wasn’t until my family and I went to Toronto, Canada that I found that cold is an enemy to heart patients. It was while I was in that winter weather that I struggled with the cold elements. One night while walking with my wife, I started feeling very tired and my wife had to pull along until we were able to get inside of a building where the symptoms vanished. What I found was that cold weather is no friend to a damaged heart.
With a spoiled vacation and the reality of the decreasing function of my heart, I returned to my cardiologist in Ventura, California. He suggested that UCLA takeover my care because things had grown progressively worse. Meanwhile, I received a call from my cardiologist at UCLA who informed me that the entire staff under the direction of Dr. Jon Kobashigawa of UCLA, had moved over to Cedars-Sinai to head up heart procedures dealing with cardio-myopathy. Thankful to God, our family insurance policy changed. They no longer accepted UCLA as part of the coverage but they did accept Cedars as my new medical provider. Timing is everything. What a miracle in the making.
In April of 2010, I was told to get to the emergency room of Cedars immediately because my kidneys were not functioning which would prevent me from getting a new heart. I was there for 2 weeks and went home only to be re-admitted in May. It appeared that the hospital could not sustain my kidneys as an outpatient. Things looked dim for me. On top of having diabetes, and a weakened heart, now the kidneys were failing causing me to rethink my life as I knew it. In secret, I began to put my life in order and called everyone that I knew of my pending fate.
Immediately I was readmitted in May where I remained until a heart became available.
Amazingly, after two weeks in May, I received the news that a heart was located for me. I was prepped, and relaxed, then I underwent a heart transplant. Within two (2) more weeks I was discharged from the hospital with a brand new and youthful heart. The surgery itself lasted approximately seven (7) hours and after I awoke in recovery and had the tube taken out of my throat, I realized that my wife and family had been through it with me and remained all night at the hospital. I saw them briefly and went back to sleep for a few more hours. When I awakened for the second time I was asked to sit up to which I responded,” where was the best place?” The nurse said to sit upright in a chair adjacent to the bed. Keep in mind that this was after having a seven hour surgery.
After taking a pain pill, I sat up for eleven (11) hours. Prior to transferring to that chair, I asked if I could walk the halls. The staff said, not today. I then asked if I could at least step in place because I wanted to give all the glory to God and try out my NEW HEART. The rest is history and now I work as a volunteer at Cedars-Sinai Hospital to encourage heart patients who are both waiting for a transplant and recovering post transplant patients in need of emotional support.
In conclusion, if it had not been for the many prayers from my family, my church (Faithful Central Bible Church), the generosity of the donor family, others that I didn’t even know about, and the skill of some of the best physicians at Cedars-Sinai, I would not be here today. My prayer is that more black people become organ donors to give the gift of life to someone like me or like you. I was not an organ donor prior to that point in my life. I’ve changed that area of my life since my issue of the heart.