Monday, Nov 3rd

Commitment . . .
Well this is what I was afraid of.  Life is just too busy and fast to even have the time to blog about it. So here on Wednesday, I’m reaching back to share Monday and Tuesday, and already Wednesday has been filled with new adventures and blessings and it’s not even noon time yet. Life is good!

Just to share the highlights of this seemingly average, but always so special gift of a day of life, I write this post hoping that you too are living a life filled with blessings and taking the time to appreciate each day. I can tell you that the people I saw today are doing so, each in their own unique way.

Hawaii, Australia and an onion remedy . . .
(if that heading doesn’t get your curiosity up, nothing will…)
The day started off with a great phone call and conversation with our good friend, Rachael, in Hawaii.  Along with looking for some information, she shared she was fighting a cold, just like Pam was doing now.  Rachael offered what I thought was a strange remedy to help eliminate the night long hacking cough that comes with a cold, to slice an onion and keep it nearby in a bowl in the bedroom, and the coughing would cease.  Yeah, right, I said to myself.  With Pam’s aversion to vegetables, I couldn’t picture her going for this idea, so didn’t go right out to buy an onion while I awaited her return from a late night at work.  Imagine my surprise when I told her about it to hear her say: “So, why didn’t you go out and buy one, or call me to pick one up on my way home?”  That’s how desperate she was.  And so at 11pm I find myself running out to the store to buy an onion. 

In that same morning call, Rachael also extended a really neat invitation to us, to join she and her husband in attending the 2009 World Transplant Games in Australia, offering to have us come and visit with them in their home in Hawaii on the way for a mini-vacation there.  Wow!  What a way to start the day, thinking about the possibilities.  Something to investigate, especially with my roots of having grown up in Australia and several return business trips there in the early 1990’s.  Story to be continued….

It starts out so simple . . .
After a mid-day clinic visit with my diabetologist, Dr. Mark Schutta (just in case you are looking for such a specialist), an absolutely wonderful doctor who is helping to make diabetes a very manageable challenge in my post transplanted life, I visited with our transplant program social worker to cover some organizational business for our heart transplant support group here in the Philadelphia area, a group of over 1000 heart transplant patients who reach out to support newly transplanted patients in our many (six) heart transplant centers here. From her I also learned about a young patient friend of mine was admitted last night to the hospital and whose family needed support. 

A new heart . . . finally!
From there I went to visit a recently transplanted heart patient, Jim, and his wonderful wife Pattie, just 14 days out from the long anticipated heart transplant here at the hospital of the University of Pennsylvania. Having overcome some of the initial challenges post-transplant, he is looking so good, great color, attitude and busy exercising in anticipation of returning home later this week. There’s nothing like a heart transplant to make you appreciate the daily gift of life so often missed by the average person. Hospital staff came and went, attending to his needs with such an upbeat and yet professional way, each expressing their amazement at how well Jim was doing. Pattie shared with me a photo that was taken during the transplant operation while his chest was open with the new heart laid in place about to be closed up. An awesome sight that not many would ever get to see, a picture of their heart close-up and in vivid beating color. All we could say it together was “Wow!” Jim becomes yet another of over 50 heart transplant patients gifted with new life at this hospital in 2008. My mission in visiting such families is to show them the success of my own 14 years with a transplanted heart, creating for them some vision and an attitude of success that (hopefully) awaits them in their years to come. I truly believe that that attitude is a critical element in the recovery and post transplant life success that so many patients have come to expect and enjoy.

And a young new heart in trouble . . .
From Jim’s room I went to the intensive care cardiac unit where a young man’s family waited in vigil, praying that his life be spared as his body dealt with severe infection just two years after his heart transplant. I confess I go into such environments feeling very helpless, not having an answer to how I can help, but with a deep faith that somehow my visit is God’s gift to them in a way that I don’t yet understand. Once again I found myself at a time and place where words came out from my own experiences that were unplanned. In speaking to Brad’s grandmother I shared with her that even though he was totally unresponsive and on a ventilator, I have been witness to another friend who, many healthy years post transplant, spent three weeks in a coma with medical expectations of having only hours to live. With the excellent medical support and prayers of a huge network of friends, Bob returned to a slow recovery and eventually a full working life, battling the odds and amazing both the medical staff and family in the process. Yes, we spoke of death and our human mortality,  how each of us will not live a moment beyond God’s will, but at the same time we will not die before He decides.  We hugged, cried and prayed together that God’s will be done and hoped that Brad’s story will parallel Bob’s in the days ahead with his own remarkable recovery. As you read this note please add that family to your own prayers.
(Update 11/7 9am: as of today, Friday, 4 days after this original visit, Brad has experienced the power of prayer and modern medicine and is now awake, taking food and while exhausted from no movement for so long, looking forward to coming home some day soon! Even his ICU nurses and docs are overwhelmed with amazement at his recovery – so keep those prayers coming. Imagine being 21 years old and having experienced this second miracle in one’s life.)

And then for those who wait . . .
Leaving them, on the spur of the moment I decided to go up to the floor where patients are waiting for their own gift of life heart transplants. There I visited with yet another Jim, his own heart temporarily replaced by a huge heart pump machine. He is the benefit of today’s medical science where they are able to totally replace the failed human heart with this machine that keeps the body alive until a donated “real” heart becomes available. It is so amazing to sit and chat with somebody so challenged in life while still maintaining a strong and positive attitude that all will work out in its own time. Patients often thank me for the gift of inspiration with such a visit, but I have to confess it is I who need to thank them for the inspiration they give me as they face their own challenge of waiting for the unknown. As I was about to leave Jim I asked about his fellow patients and was moved by Jim’s sharing Anthony’s story to go down the hall just two rooms away to meet and visit with this other waiting patient.

and another roller coaster ride . . .
Anthony has been in the hospital for 104 days and recently has had the emotional roller coaster ride of being told a heart may become available only later to find out that that heart was not suitable for some reason and so his wait continues. You can only imagine what that must feel like, waiting so long, not knowing if tomorrow will come, having your hope lifted what that news, only to be disappointed when it did not happen. This is Anthony’s second heart transplant, his first lasting two years before rejection would have him back on the list and in the hospital to repeat the experience of waiting and eventual surgery and recovery. Like Jim, he is also on a total replacement heart machine. Imagine living with no human heart in your body, the rhythmic sounds of the thump, thump, thump of that can be heard from the heart machine tethered nearby, performing the functions of the human heart, serving as a lifesaving bridge until some family at their moment of tragedy says yes to organ donation (note: only 1% of deaths happen in a way that allows them to be an organ donor, and 50% of families say no…) and that heart is a match for this one patient. The room is dark but the smiles of both Anthony and his visiting sister light the room up as we chat about the opportunities that lie ahead, a visit very different than when the patient is looking forward to their first heart transplant, this patient already having that experience behind them. Obviously Anthony would appreciate your prayers also, and so I pass along that request as I leave the hospital reflecting on these very different five experiences that this day has given me.

Five ?
Five experiences you say? Yes, five. One patient successfully transplanted now waiting to go home, another fighting for his life post transplant on a ventilator, a third without a human heart so positive in his waiting, a fourth (also without a human heart inside) living the emotional roller coaster ride as he waits for the third heart in his life, and finally, looking out from inside my own body surviving 14 years with Roberto’s gift of his donated heart, making my life in these visits possible on this very special day,

    just

another day (“just“????). Yes, that’s five.

My question for you . . .
So I ask, have you taken a moment to appreciate your own gift of life today? And, have you stopped to offer a prayer of thanks for that gift? While you’re at it, don’t forget to add a prayer for all my friends above (and for me too, please). I have you in my prayers.

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