In order for there to be a heart transplant, someone has to be on the other side, a heart donor.  For the elated recipient and family, there is another family going through a tragic sad loss.  And so it is with my transplant success story here.

Let me first say that for as much publicity we see around the TV show stories of donors and recipients meeting, it isn’t a common thing given the anonymous process by which an organ becomes the gift for a dying patient.  My best guess is that less than 5% ever get to know their donor family, much less actually get to meet each other.  That said, I am blessed to be one of that small percentage and thus have come to know my parallel story which I will share here.

From meeting my donor’s brother, Gilberto, I know the story of Roberto Cuebas.

Roberto Cuebas - heart donor

Back on October 8th, Roberto was out celebrating his 38th birthday in Brooklyn, New York.  He was in the wrong place at the wrong time and was attacked on the street and beaten about the head with a baseball bat.  For the next ten days, Roberto lay in a comma (that’s not death) and when his brain stopped, was declared brain dead.  His brother, Gilberto, led his brothers and sisters to make the decision for Roberto to be an organ donor.  His heart ended up over in Philadelphia that fateful day, October 19th, saving the life of this dying man at the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania.  Amazingly, that strong athletic heart is still beating today, 21 years later in the body of this 72 years young man sharing this story.


Gil and I met in person at the 2000 US Transplant Games where we sat together in the donor recognition ceremonies in Florida that year.

G Cuebas and JimG Cuebas and Jim standing

Each year on the anniversary I send him an update on the past years life with that heart.  Last year as that day approached for some reason I was hesitant to write, feeling that maybe these annual letters might be bringing sadness back into their family life.  But few days before that writing, , Gil called and in that surprise conversation he mentioned how much he was looking forward for that years update letter.  Much relieved, I sat down and finished that letter, just as I did last Thursday again this year, expressing my heartfelt gratitude and offering news and photo updates for the past year.

One highlight in that letter was our visit to Roberto’s grave in Brooklyn recently, where we left a bouquet of flowers from our home garden and prayed over the site where both he and his parents are buried as seen in this photo . . .

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