It was about 5 pm on Monday, June 10 when my doctor entered my room to have a conversation about our next possible moves. See, I had now been in the hospital since May 1 as a Status 3 waiting for a heart. The following Thursday I was going to need to be certified again as a Status 3. What concerned my doctor was that I had already been in the hospital for over a month and the chances of me having other complications, such as an infection, were increasing. I was stable enough on my medication in order to go home as a Status 4 and continue to live my life, waiting as an out patient for a heart. He suggested to me that this be our plan if no suitable heart became available before the following Thursday. Needless to say that I was not happy about this prospect. After being in the hospital for that long I had mentally, spiritually, physically and vocationally prepared myself for a transplant and the the thought of simply checking out of the hospital and checking back in to my life seemed impossible. How would I do that? Would I just show up one day and say “Surprise! Everything is back to the way it was before I vanished over a month ago.” Yet, I had put my trust in my doctor and I was willing to do whatever he thought would be the best.
At 6 pm, that same night, one of the partners in my doctors practice stopped in to visit. I was sitting up in my comfy recliner watching Netflix and he sat down beside me on my bed. He proceeded to ask me some random questions like “How tall are you?” “What brought you into the hospital this time?” He then spotted a picture of my dog, Dooney, hanging on the wall of my room. He asked a few questions about him and then he announced that he had a cat that ironically died of heart failure. He then proceeded to listen to my heart and then exited my room. I thought for a moment that this exchange was a little weird, but my mind was not all present because I was still processing my earlier conversation about going home the following Thursday. It was in this fog that my nurse rushed back in and he asked me what the doctor had said to me. I told him about the some-what bizarre conversation and then he informed me that he had discontinued my blood thinner and had ordered Vitamin K which is used to thicken the blood up quickly. My nurse told me that, in his experience, this is the first step in preparation for a transplant. Needless to say my curiosity and confusion was peeked.
My nurse got on his phone and called the Transplant Coordinator who talked to me about a possible match, but that it was too early to say for sure. Basically, there was still some behind the scenes work being done and my doctor was playing it safe by starting preparations just in case it would work out. This conversation ended with the promise that I would know one way or the other fairly soon. When I handed the phone back to my nurse I just started to cry and I immediately called MIchelle to let her know what was happening. 45 minutes later the Transplant Coordinator was in my room with the paper work. I was getting a new heart! She informed me that my surgeon was scheduled at 5 am the following morning to harvest the heart and if everything went according to plan I would be in the operating room by 7 am. This was getting real! MIchelle, Mckenzie and Madison were all on their way to the hospital and all I could do was sit and wait.
A couple hours later everyone had arrived and we received another visit from the Transplant Coordinator. This was a much more in depth meeting. We learned about the process, what would be happening in the morning, what to expect post-transplant and we learned as much about the donor as we are allowed by law. He was male between the ages of 20 and 30. The Coordinator told MIchelle that she hoped that she will be able to keep up with me once I am all healed up because the heart was as close to perfect as they could have ever dreamed of finding. After this meeting with the Coordinator it was time to get the process started. It was late by now and everyone was going to be back very early in the morning, so we gave our goodnight kisses and off to the hotel my girls went.
There is a lot of blood work that needs to be done in preparation for a transplant, so I had two nurses in with me taking care of everything. I was tired, to say the least, once all the prep work was done and I was able to fall asleep for a little while. They woke me up at 5 am and told me that everything had moved quicker than they thought the night before so I was getting ready to be transported to the operating room. My nurse informed me that my family had already been notified and that they were on their way. Everyone soon arrived and I was wheeled out of my room to a line of nurses applauding like I was some warrior being sent off into battle. I didn’t feel like a warrior. In fact, I have never been more scared of anything in my life. It is one thing to sit around and think about the possibility of having a heart transplant, it is quite another thing to actually be on your way to having one.
When we entered the unit where the operation was going to occur we were met by a team of doctors and nurses all very excited to see me. The joy that radiated from them was both comforting and discombobulating at the same time. After a nurse went over the basics of what was going to be happening I was able to give one last kiss and hug to everyone in my family. At that point the Anesthesiologist took over and was the one who verbally walked me through every step along the way. He started by raising his clip board up so that nobody could hear what he was about to say and he asked me if I take Viagra. I said “No” and he told me that he has learned to ask because many men never report taking that drug and it is very important for his job to know.
I was then wheeled into the biggest operating room I have ever seen. There were people buzzing all around, equipment everywhere and those big operating room lights. It was weird but my mind went straight to Area 51 and I felt like the alien that was about to be dissected. Of course, the room was freezing and all the things that had to be stuck to me must have come right out of the freezer. The surgeon came over and introduced himself and I made some kind of joke about him feeling like he was at the top of his game this morning. He assured me that I was in good hands. It was then that the weirdest thing happened. Nobody, in all of the conversations about this process, informed me that I was going to be laid out crucifixion style on the operating table. As they were securing my arms straight out I was informed that I was going to be receiving my first dose of anesthesia and the next thing I remember I woke up with a breathing tube down my throat which was quickly removed.
My successful surgery took just a little over 4 hours, but it was a day later that I was brought around and the breathing tube was removed. I have no memories of that day, except what my family tells me. From those final words in the operating room to the breathing tube being removed seemed like a blink of the eye. At that point my family was allowed in with me as long as they were all gowned up with masks. I will never forget laying my eyes on them. It was at that moment that I knew that everything was going to be alright. They don’t mess around. Within a few hours of that breathing tube being removed they had me standing up with a walker, pumping my legs and sitting up in a recliner. For the first few days that was about all of the energy that I could muster. Just moving from the bed to the chair was enough work to cause me to nap for hours. One day, on his rounds, I told the doctor that I was feeling so tired all the time. He calmly leaned his head down towards mine and reminded me that just a few days prior to this conversation my old heart was removed from my body and a new heart was put in its place. He encouraged me to adjust my expectations accordingly.
I can honestly say that every day is getting better and better. Yes, I have side effects from all the drugs. I have a hard time sleeping, the occasional shakes and I am temporarily a diabetic. Yet, I have been assured that all of this will pass as everything gets balanced out. I was sent home 10 days post transplant which was way quicker than I imagined. There is no place like home to rest and recuperate. As of the writing of this blog I have had two successful heart biopsies that show no sign of rejection and I have been able to take a shower every day. I believe God brought us down here to Venice 19 years ago because he knew that I was going to need Tampa General Hospital. I can’t say enough about the care that I have received there. It is truly amazing what they do every single day. I am simply one of many people whose lives have been forever changed because of the blessing of that hospital.
Now that I am feeling better, I will be blogging on a more regular basis. There is so much I want to share. Please stay tuned and again, thank you for the prayers, the cards, the emails, the donations, the meals and the love. This has been a very humbling experience and I am in awe of what God is doing in this situation and through this situation.