(a continuation of the story below from Oct 19th, 1994 . . .)
Sometime later that day, (October 20th) after the 6am, (not a false start of that 6pm first reaction…) realization that the new heart was beating strong in this weakened frame, the team of docs stopped in to check out progress. I was awake and feeling great, enjoying breaths of air so different from the day before. They asked “So, how’s the pain?” to which I amazingly and honestly replied, “I don’t have any pain.”

Their response was “Well you will after the anesthesia wears off!” (funny side note: every time I share that exchange in telling my story to medical audiences, they almost always laugh. I have yet to figure out how that forecast of pain is so funny, but it is a consistent reaction to that story – go figure!) They left, only to return several hours later and asking the same question, “How’s the pain?” to which I again am happy to reply, “Still no pain!” Imagine that, given all that has to take place to access the old heart – break open the sternum, remove that heart, place the new one in and connect it, then close each layer of the body back up – and NO PAIN! In the years since I can confirm that many others I have mentored had the same experience!

During that second visit, they asked, “Do you think you can sit up?”  I was willing if they were ok with that and with help I was sitting on the side of the bed.  Then they asked, “Do you think you can walk over to that chair there?”  It wasn’t a marathon, but heck, within 24 hours of having your heart replaced, there I was walking (with support) across the short distance to sit in a chair.  “Awesome!”

The next day someone delivered the news that they had to get me out of that surgical intensive care recovery room. They had a heart coming for John, the third heart-beat! All three of us received our new hearts the same week, something they say often happens in sets of three in hospitals. Imagine that!

Once out of intensive care, my answers to the daily question of how are you doing continued to be “Great!”  “Humm…” they would say, “that should be wearing off by now.”  Thank God, it didn’t.  That feeling was – and continues to be – great!  (yes, even many more miles and 21 years later, still great each and every day)

I clearly remember the chief surgeon, Dr. Michael Acker, coming into my room a couple days after the surgery looking tired and resting back into the chair next to my bed.  He shared his feelings with the following exchange: “Mr. Gleason, I held your (old) heart in my hands (Jim: Wow, just imagine that!) and I can tell you, there is no way it could have supported your active life style!  It was so damaged – less than 15% capacity left – a real testament to the human spirit that you could keep up with all you were doing!”  Talk about emotions!  Let me just close with an emotional “Thank you!” to everyone involved in making it possible to share the experience in this writing – i.e, in helping to get me over to this extended new life I now live.  No more caring and loving professionals could ever have been found.  They really became “family” and in my life that term is very special, because I am blessed with a very large and loving family.

(stay tuned for a parallel story . . .)

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