I love music throughout the house here when I am doing many things. With Alexa service in all our rooms, I can just call out Alexa, play some 50’s music!” and if I add to that “… on the everywhere group” my favorite 50’s songs will begin playing throughout the home! It’s an awesome way to live every day here.

So, on to my story with that as background . . . This morning when I asked Alexa for some Doowop music, the first song was “Put your head on my shoulders…” by Paul Anka. As I listened to that refrain, again and again, two memories flooded back from 50+ years ago.

The first was from my days as a Metuchen First Aid squad cadet when I was maybe 17? One evening three of us were attending a regional cadet meeting some distance from our home town, so the three of us sat together in the front seat, he being the driver (don’t recall who), she (no name recall) in the middle, me on the passenger door side – got the picture? On that long drive, this young same age girl eventually sleepily put her head on my shoulder (same song title again!) and I was in teen heaven for the rest of that nighttime ride. Life was good! Sorry, that’s the whole story, no followup romance, just a moment in a young man’s life that played back this morning, some sixty years later – a wonderful feeling and memory that lasted maybe 30 minutes of my teen life.

Jim as volunteer cadet with Metuchen First Aid squad

Later in life, maybe I was early twenties in my computer career, commuting by bus from home to NYC to teach some technical classes. Each morning, a block from our home, a long line of commuters would line up to wait for the next bus. Bus would pull up, fill with the waiting passengers/strangers, and rest would await the next bus coming immediately behind that first one. Every working day, just routine. This particular day, I was joined in my seat by an attractive young lady – going to be a good day! No conversation, just close quarters on that crowded bus for the next hour til we unloaded at Port Authority Terminal in NYC and walked on off to the office. Fifteen minutes into that quiet ride, it happened again. She slowly and unknowingly (to her) ‘put her head on my shoulders’, sound asleep for the rest of that ride. Me? I was wide alert, very tuned into that magic moment of closeness between man and woman (doesn’t matter that she wasn’t aware!). For 45 minutes I was ‘in man’s heaven’ – enjoying every mile until we arrived at the terminal. Expecting some pleasant apologetic exchange when she awoke to find the situation, I was not prepared for what happened next: NOTHING! Bus stopped, she awoke, unaware I was even there, no less connected by that ‘heads on my shoulder’ relationship, just stood up and walked off with the rest of that crowd. Romantic moments over! And that’s that, until today when Paul Anka’s song reached down deep and brought back those two special moments for the first time.

Life was and still is good!

“Life is so GOOD!”

Recently I received an invitation to our 60th St. Peter’s high school reunion (New Brunswick, NJ). (“WOW, 60 years already!!!”) A very different event this year – a mid-day luncheon consideration for those who may not drive in the evening as we are reaching ‘that age’ in our lives.

I jumped at the opportunity, wondering how many would come (and how many are no longer around these 60 years later) and excitedly mailed in my reservation check, hoping that by that September date we might have the venue open for this milestone event.

Then I began reminiscing about those formative high school years as I lay wide awake at 4am in bed. I wasn’t in the ‘in-crowd’, so didn’t expect many who might come would even remember me, or maybe me them.

Quickly I focused in the dark bedroom on three life-changing memories that I so excitedly wanted to share at that reunion, honoring and celebrating the dedicated Catholic nuns who in those days still taught most of the classes and ran the school with non-challenged authority and a kind, caring heart. But just in case the event doesn’t come off (only 15 out of what I recall was 200 of so classmates have responded 1 month after the invitation went out), I decided to celebrate their memories in writing this blog of Petrean memories.

Life-changing moment #1
It was October of my first high school year that began by attending the noviciate for future brothers at St. Joseph’s (this was before that became a private high school). It had become clear that I wasn’t ready for that monastic life (having not experienced life or girls yet – smile!). As a St. Francis grammar school graduate (Metuchen, NJ), our church was sending district to St. Peter’s (New Brunswick, NJ) some 6.5 miles by public bus distant. Mom took me to see if I could register at St. Peters where we met the principal, Sister Helen Rose (Sisters of Charity supported the school). We were told that all classes were full (huge disappointment!) BUT if I could return next Monday somehow she would find a place for me (somehow!). The first life-changing event due to her compassion and understanding!

Life-changing moment #2
Once assigned to 9D (classes were numbers by skill level, 9A being the best) but a desk was made available and I thrived in that less challenging grouping. I can still recall begging to take biology in place of a study hall (that class wasn’t in the college prep curriculum but I loved the out of doors life of my Summer day collecting frogs, fish, dragon flys, etc.). Each Friday sister would line up the class around the room for a vocabulary drill, one wrong answer and you sat back down – sort of a ‘last man standing’ drill. We were always nervous and the person before me was asked “How do you get down from an elephant?” Little did we know that she was serious, so when that person responded “Sister, you climb down.” she was not amused, angrily told him to sit down, and moved on to me with the same question. With the advantage of his mistake, I of course replied “Sister, you can’t get down from an elephant, only birds have down feathers.” Right answer! Usually, by the end of those weekly drills, I was the last man standing, sometimes just due to luck as in this case. But that leads me to the real 2nd life-changing memory.

Climbing up the stairs, coming down at the feared and strong strict Sister Mary Matilda (a tall woman which made my looking up to her on the higher step even more frightening. I don’t think I had ever encountered her before this moment, she being the teacher of the higher-level classes like physics, religion and even her homeroom was the seemingly ‘elite’ class., certainly not the “D level” where I was now in my junior year, about to move up to that fateful SENIOR year with fateful decisions about what college to apply for, etc. Sister stopped me (on that lower step), looked down, and said, “I’ve talked to Sister Rose (the principal) as asked to have you transferred to MY homeroom. What do you think of that?” While she saw that as a generous and thoughtful way to challenge my learning, I still today can’t imagine how I had the nerve to respond, “Sister (you ALWAYS addressed them as ‘sister’), I don’t like that. I can stay down where I am and get my ‘A’s’ with little effort (work) – remember I was 15 going on 16 and a precocious nobody – or I can go to your classes and maybe get a B or C.” She walked off and can’t recall her words, if any, at my rejection. But of course, the kid’s rejection doesn’t carry any weight and I did find myself reassigned to her classes without recourse.

In her class one day, sister came down by my desk and asked me what college I was going to. My reply was that I wasn’t planning to go to college, not having what I thought high enough grades to qualify, and certainly, my family couldn’t afford my going. Sister told me to fill out some form, which of course, when a sister told you to do something, you DID! Little did I know that it was an application for a NJ state scholarship. Surprisingly, I got approved for $200/semester and decided, ok, if they were willing to pay for half (remember this was 1960, not today’s $50,000/year tuitions), I guess I could come up with the other $200 and applied to just one college, the Catholic college of Seton Hall University in South Orange, NJ (as a commuter, so no food or room expenses). Once accepted, I began my 4- year college career with its own very special memories in the Fall of 1960.

As it turned out, Sister Matilda got assigned as principal to some high school that was just off my college commute path. I made it a point to often drop in on her many Friday’s as we became good friends. She shared her side of that stairway moment, admitting that I almost got knocked down those stairs with my too honest reply to her offer. I certainly deserved that and in those days no parent would have objected if she had. Without her intervention, I would never have gone on to college and certainly not the 40-year teaching and corporate computer industry career that followed, both of which I enjoyed every day of those decades of working life.

And the story continues
But the story doesn’t end there! Once graduated from Seton Hall, I went into teaching and ended up back at St. Peter’s teaching algebra and geometry, loving the students and the daily challenge right alongside the very nuns and lay faculty that had been my teachers. My ‘math lab’ classroom was the basement converted from a janitor’s room when I was a student when bottled milk delivered daily at the doorstep for that janitor. What a unique experience/blessing. While teaching, I went on to earn my graduate degree (nights of commuting down route 1 to Trenton) at what is now the State College of New Jersey, a degree that has also served me well these many years, all thanks to that caring nun, my life-changing encounter with Sister Mary Matilda!

“Thank you, Sister! – and thanks to all those dedicated ladies who gave their lives to convent life and teaching in Catholic schools everywhere.

I am so looking forward to sharing those Petrean life-changing memories and challenging the others to recall their own impactful moments some 60+ years ago at the hands of those nuns at our September 60th reunion!

My high school yearbook picture (1960)
Here’s me today! (2020)
(26 years with a heart transplant received back in 1994)

PS: Despite what I feel is today’s poor memory, in talking with the woman putting this event together, as she mentioned fellow student name after name, I could actually picture their face in my mind! Wow, after 60 years, wouldn’t you love to think you too left that strong an impression for those around you? I would be very surprised if my face came to mind if they heard my name today, but we will find out shortly.

Volunteering as a Metuchen First Aid Squad cadet (1960)
Back to St. Peter’s as a math teacher (1965-67)

Learn how to learn from those you disagree with, or even offend you. See if you can find the truth in what they believe.

Keeping inside most of the time now has opened up new opportunities as long ago friends find time to reach out and make contact. Just this past week three have called ‘out of the blue’ to say hello and ask how are we doing during this strange time. One asked if I still had the photos he had sent 20 years ago when he and I fulfilled a dream of flying in an open cockpit, old fashioned bi-plane (he was the licensed pilot, I was the front cockpit passenger fulfilling a goal I had dreamed up). I was so pleased to share that I did still have those photos of that memorable event – he even let me fly that plane at one point! – hanging here on my in-home office wall!

Then just yesterday I answered an unknown name/number calling to find a fellow heart transplant recipient calling (out of the blue) who had received his own heart transplant just two months after I had gotten mine here in Philadelphia at the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania, both by the same surgeon, Dr. Mike Acker, 26 (YES, TWENTY SIX!) years ago! I had never talked to him all those years and here he was, another outstanding survivor, reaching out and sharing our post-transplant life stories a quarter-century from that initial encounter!

It is a good time to count our blessings and reach out to others, especially family and friends, or neighbors who would love that touch of a friendly voice, or even from long lost strangers as I enjoyed even this week.

I can’t wait to see what this week brings. And not just wait for those calls, but with time on our hands, who can we reach out to with that gift of friendship to ‘make their days’? As for me, I just reached out to that beautiful nurse, Heather, from the heart transplant program here who befriended me way back in 1994 and with whom I can still connect with across the country now. I can still hear her words, “Mr. Gleason, I think we have a heart for you!” Wow, those still give me heartfelt emotions of gratitude even now, 26 years later.


Here are two heart transplant friends, Johann and Sam, enjoying a 4th of July hometown parade several years ago – inspired by the story above, I will go and call both of them now!

I ALWAYS engage with empathy people serving me in any store, especially when things are so overwhelming as they are these challenging days. Just back minutes ago from our local ACME, with a cashier (maybe a manager subbing for a cashier on break – as she was waiting on me (with a long line behind me) trying to orchestrate via her phone some other workers in nearby departments), I engaged her with smiles and empathy, thanking her for being there for me, wishing her to ‘Stay safe” as I finished. Well, you get the idea. But that’s my NORMAL (no surprise to you, huh?) No matter how tired or harried, that never fails to get a smile in return (and probably gets the next customer in line at least a smile of welcome now…).

Earlier this morning, I went to our local Target store to get some laundry detergent, etc. as we were just starting to run low (never one to wait until a real need!). The store (about 10:30am) was pretty empty, so I (like you) wandered the aisles (even their food aisles) after picking up those cleaning supplies, just enjoying the quiet. Workers refilling the shelves were in good spirits given the current shopping challenges and hording (many shelves were empty of paper good and cleaning supplies, as expected). As I returned to the front check out area, I noticed two things. One, lines at the few registers that were open, with large baskets of goods to check out. “Oh well!” Not surprises as I resigned myself to waiting in those lines. Two, I noticed they were advertising a $40 reward if you opened up a “Redcard”, whatever that was? But hey, if you are going to give me $40, I need to know more so proceeded to the customer service area only to find 3 in line with nobody behind the counter. “Ah, no big deal..” so I just joined that line which found an employee from the food area pressed into service to fill that void. She was VERY patient with the first very elderly lady who had to write a check or something. Quickly she cleared the next two and then it was just me. I explained and found this was the Target credit card that would not only get me that $40 but also 5% off anything I buy at Target. (I don’t shop Target but once or twice a year). I fumbled filling out the application on their windowed sign-in device and had to start over. She was most patient as we worked together to complete the application which was instantly approved (she expressed positive surprise which made me feel like I had won something). Once done, she asked if I wanted to checkout my filled cart with her at this customer service counter (nobody had come in line behind me, thank goodness). I thanked her for taking the initiative in keeping me from having to go to the end of those other long checkout lines! Once finished (she even asked for help from a bagger so I didn’t have to do anything as they refilled my cart with bags), I asked for a manager and was told there was one right behind me (stocking a display of paper towels that were in demand). “Charles, “ I called out, “I want to say how great job this young lady (used her very unusual name that I can’t recall right now, but did then) for me.” He generously added his own praise for her in response and the three of them and myself were all beautiful smiles as I left, feeling so good about my 5% and $40 adventure. But then, that’s my ‘normal’ experience, and I couldn’t resist sharing it with you, my friends, and welcome you to share it with others if you feel like it. Maybe others will smile and share that smiles with their encounters these days.

Staying safe here in NJ with beautiful 78-degree weather, hoping this finds you doing the same wherever you are in reading this.

Recently my wife, a ‘donor mom’, and I were invited to add an after-play chat with the audience of a local Bridge Street Players production of this play about a heart transplant patient making contact with their donor family. It was a great play filled with strong emotions and fun-filled humor that rang pretty true to real-life experience which in fact, that play is based on, according to a later encounter we had with the playwright, Sean Grennan out of NYC. If you are looking to promote organ donation in your own local area, I would strongly recommend reaching out to Sean to see if a production could be scheduled for your local theatrical group.

Sean’s web site is HERE.

Pam (on the right) and I (center) posing with the cast of The Tin Woman performed in Burlington Feb 2020 by the Bridge Street Players

Way back on October 19th,1994, Dr. Mike Acker (Hospital of the University of Penn) performed my heart transplant. Still decades later I am proud to say we are good friends, often working together on UNOS/OPTN heart and allocation issues.

Little did I know Mike was also a talented musician as seen here in this Penn promo video:

Coming from the perspective of having received a life-saving organ (heart) transplant (25 years ago now), I found this to be a fascinating read, especially the insightful personal experiences (shared honestly both successes and failures) of a transplant surgeon as this author is.

The histories of each organ transplant story were also fascinating, but with much prior reading, I was familiar with most of those already, so it was the uniqueness of this very personal perspective that added interest for me. Those makers of transplant history each tell a story of passion and perseverance, even when they had to ‘swim upstream’ against their peers of the day, often losing patients either during surgery or much too shortly thereafter, not from rejection (although that was certainly the majority until the early 1980’s when the modern age of immune suppressant drugs were developed), but from other complications as most were weak and near-death to even be considered for the still-experimental surgery. Of special interest was the telling of early xenotransplant surgeries that in fact kept dying patients alive for various surprising lengths of time, but always failing. That is an avenue still being explored in today’s ago of organ donor shortage with increasingly positive outcomes, so expect to see that come on-line in the years to come.

Definitely a unique and interesting read even if you arent connected directly with organ transplantation. As one who is still alive because of a donor who gave their gift after life had ended, I hope this reading will serve to encourage readers to register as organ donors when they see the many positive outcomes in the many patient stories the author shares from his own work in this rewarding field of modern medicine.

To hear an NPR “Fresh Air” interview with this author, click here

I love to read! Variety is the way I would describe my reading preferences, usually enjoying 5 books at a time, some hard copy, others on a Kindle device, still others as audible books mainly for listening in the car on long and short trips. Last year my Goodreads goal was 24 books and by 2019 year’s end, I had read and reviewed 54 books despite a very busy life outside of reading time. This year my goal for 34 is already ahead of schedule with two completed in the first two weeks of 2020.

My current read is so good, I wanted to share it here and hope it inspires you to both enjoy your own reading list, but to add this awesome but disturbing real-life story to your list:

WOW! This amazing book came by way of several strong recommendations and once begun reading (despite having 5 other books in the current process of reading), I couldn’t put it down. Now that is what happens when I receive a novel by my favorite author, Charles Martin, always finishing his new releases the day they get delivered, but that’s never happened with a non-fiction book like this one. Opened and read to its end, some 350 pages later, finished in just 2 days, my sign of an exceptional read!

As the title suggests, JUST MERCY: A Story of Justice and Redemption, is the author’s personal account of a career, no make that ‘his vocation’ or calling, as a lawyer offering probono legal service to first, prisoners on death row, and later expanding that to juveniles who have been sent to prison for life, that is ‘to die in prison’ with no chance for parole. The tragedies of our legal system come out in story after story of injustice focused on the poor and minorities that too often find themselves the victims of prejudice and even illegal treatment/trials when they are obviously innocent. The book reads like a murder mystery novel except these are real-life stories of people with no hope, some imprisoned for fifty and more years, when Bryan Stevenson and his team arrive, very overworked, offering hope and a listening ear. The legal system and police, lawyers and judges too often ignore new evidence and testimony with legal maneuvers protect the original sentencing despite obvious mishandling at the original sentencing.

This is a hard book to read in some respects, given the human injustice and long-time suffering of the victims in his stories, adults and underage prisoners in jail for life. But at the same time, there are stories of success, told in such heart wrenching human emotional narrative involving family and communities still supporting prisoners they know were not the murders they were judged to be. Its also a hard read because you, the reader, feel so helpless in seeing the background and inhumaine treatment endured by the innocent or incapacitated so helpless in the system before Bryan and his team take on case after case, many winning releases, but too often unable to turn the tide of the executions despite obvious evidence of their innocence.

Supported by 20 pages of notes and a complete index, this is a frustrating but very educational read that should be part of everyone’s eye-opening exposure to the injustices he shares. One is left with an empty feeling of wanting to do something, but not knowing how to help. In his final pages, the author does link us to the legal support organization and right now I am going to go there to, at the very least, along with promoting their work with this book review, see if I can make at some financial donation to help them give hope to the hopeless.

Oct 19th, 2019 – it’s now officially my 25th heart transplant anniversary. I never take for granted each day of life extended in having received that 38-year-old heart back in 1994, 2-1/2 decades ago! How rare that was in terms of longevity was brought home recently when I read the following in a Washington Post magazine article that included these words:
“Heart transplantation is now close to commonplace, with more than 2,000 a year performed in the United States alone. It extends life but is not without problems, still. For reasons that are not yet clear, transplant recipients tend to develop coronary artery disease more rapidly than most people. Transplant survival rates, while vastly better than before, are still not extraordinary. Only half survive for 10 years or more. Fifteen years is considered excellent. Twenty is remarkable. Twenty-five is nearly unheard of.”
Wow, …nearly unheard of! Those words jumped off the page and I have found myself both reflecting on that milestone and sharing those words with many a friend and fellow patient, challenging them with the opportunity to enjoy life themselves for decades as I have, and continue to do so.

Now you too have heard and can join in my amazement of having this daily challenge of how best to make use of this gift of life today, twenty-five times 365 days a year and God willing, many more to come!

To celebrate Roberto’s gift, yesterday Pam and I gave testimony and his story at our church’s Sunday service and then hosted with a delicious homemade luncheon (well, Pam’s homemade lunch at least, all I did was iced 100 small cupcakes with red sprinkles and paper with hearts on each) a Koinonia social time honoring his memory as seen in this photo: