I go to Tampa General Hospital once a month to have a biopsy of my heart. They go in through my neck, down into my heart and take out five pin-head sized pieces. These pieces “cook” for twenty-four hours and then they read the results. This test allows my doctor to see if there is any rejection of my heart, on a cellular level, long before I would physically feel any adverse affects. Thus, my doctor can adjust my medications in order to head off any rejection at the pass. This past week I went in for my ninth biopsy since my transplant. Every one has turned out perfect, meaning there has been no rejection. On a scale from zero to five, zero being the best and five being the worst, I have consistently scored zeros. I have never been so happy to get straight zero’s on any test!
The biopsy is an outpatient procedure, somewhat like going to the dentist. I receive a numbing shot in my neck and fifteen minutes later I am all patched up and ready to go. There is no pain, other than the numbing shot, because my heart has no nerves attached to my body. Very rarely do transplanted hearts regrow neural connections. On the positive side, I will never again experience “heartburn”. On the negative sign, if I would ever have a heart attack, I won’t know it because I will feel no pain in my chest. Also, I will forever be the sick one in the herd that the lion will get because I no longer have a fight or flight reaction in my heart. My eyes will see the lion. My mind will process that I need to get away from the lion. My muscles will receive the message to run. But my heart won’t realize what is happening because my brain and my heart can’t talk. Thus, I will start to run, but my heart will think that I am sitting still. I will then get winded because my muscles won’t be receiving enough oxygen. Then the lion will get me like one of those gruesome scenes from the National Geographic Channel. I feel the affects of this every day. If I get up too fast and start walking across the room I will start to breathe heavier because my muscles are needing more oxygen. Likewise, after I am done doing a cardio work out, my heart takes longer to cool down because it isn’t aware that I have gotten off the treadmill or elliptical machine. Yet, I am not sweating any of this because it is a very small price to pay for having a new heart.
This week was big, not only for the perfect biopsy, but also for my lifestyle. Because of how well everything is going, my doctor has taken me totally off of my water pill. This means that I am no longer retaining fluid (first time in years) and I won’t have to run to the bathroom every fifteen minutes. I am also hopeful that this will help alleviate much of the night time cramping that I have been experiencing. I can count on one hand the number of nights, since my transplant, that I have slept soundly without leg cramps. Another big lifestyle change, for the better, is that I am no longer a diabetic. This means that I can discontinue sticking my finger everyday and giving myself insulin shots. Yes, I will be watching my diet because I have formed new eating habits over the last four months, but I now get to enjoy bread, pasta and chocolate again! Lastly, when it comes to medications, my steroids have been reduced to 5 mg a day. I am looking forward to seeing what this does. I hope that my puffy Prednisone face will go away and my appetite will come back into line with that of a normal human being.
Medication changes aren’t all that has changed for me as of this week. Again, because of how well things are going, I have been cleared to travel. An airplane isn’t recommended, but I can venture out further than a couple of hours away from Tampa General. Along with this freedom, my doctor has given me the green light to enjoy an adult beverage every now and again. Not that I am going to run out and get drunk, but I am looking forward to a sunset over the Gulf of Mexico with a rum and coke in my hand and Jimmy Buffett on my playlist. I have never been a big drinker, but, for me, there is something special about sunset, rum and Buffett. I am sure that I will be a cheap date because it has been over a year since I have had any alcohol. One rum and coke will do me. Oh, and yes this means Disney World is a go. I can’t wait! Michelle and I will be running away just as quickly as our schedule allows. I haven’t seen Mickey in a very long time. In fact, there was a time, in the not-to-distant-past, that I wondered if I would ever see Mickey again.
I want to thank God and I want to thank you for your prayers and your support. I know that without God and without you I wouldn’t be sharing this good news right now. There are so many people out there who need a new heart and, for whatever reason, haven’t been able to receive one. Every day I count my blessings and I praise God for this miracle. I also count my blessings and praise God for all of you who have walked with Michelle and I on this journey. Is it done? By no means. My life is forever changed, for the better. The drugs that I need to take, the side-effects that I experience and my compromised immune system are all small potatoes compared to the gift that I have been given. Sunsets are more spectacular, rum tastes that much better and Disney is so much more magical because of the gift of a new heart and a new life. I will never take this stuff for granted again! Here’s to all of the small stuff that has now become the big stuff!