(Article as posted 8.10.17 on the Chronic Disease Coalition web site at:
https://chronicdiseasecoalition.com/guest-author-jim-gleason-discusses-living-an-optimistic-life-in-the-face-of-chronic-health-conditions/ )

 Many years ago, October 1994 to be specific, I faced the decision of life over death. With an incurable condition of a failing heart, my only option to stay alive was to undergo a heart transplant. I didn’t realize it at the time, but getting a new heart is often characterized as trading one chronic health condition for another, creating a lifelong dependence on immunosuppressant medications that would keep my native protective immune system from labeling the heart donated by another person as being a foreign invader to be attacked or rejected as an alien in my body.

With an average life expectancy of only nine years after receiving a heart transplant – a better alternative than the two years I would have had left to live if I relied on my failing heart without a replacement – I faced a grim reality that was still much shorter than most of us would like to think about. Now, in 2017 and 23 years later, I am living life to the fullest, further beating that estimated life expectancy with every passing year. Having faced death at the youthful age of 51, I now have a 74-year-old body with a 61-year-young heart (yes, as one of the small post-transplant population who has connected with their donor’s family, I know my heart was 38 at the time of donation).

As the years pass, I’ve successfully dealt with prostate cancer, different forms of skin cancer, kidney cancer and emergency gall bladder surgery, along with a host of other advancing age-related health challenges. Each mountain was subsequently passed with flying colors thanks to modern medicine, a great medical team and loving family support that continues to inspire me to face each day with a life-enhancing, positive outlook and attitude.

Though I may be living with a chronic condition, I consider the gift of life through organ donation not as overcoming death, but rather as an extension of life that offers so many daily opportunities to live each day to its fullest. Many describe life with a transplant not as a return to being normal, but rather living a new normal life. Yes, we all suffer from a chronic condition that leads to death, but that’s what being human means. That we can’t change, but how we live with that chronic condition, without letting it limit our daily lives, remains the challenge you and I face today and every day we survive with that condition.

Long ago I accepted the fleeting nature of life and face each day getting out of bed, as I look down at the floor and celebrate being above ground another day. And I see each day as another opportunity to make it my best day yet. I offer that outlook to you as you face your own daily challenge of a life facing your own chronic condition.

Jim Gleason is an author, heart transplant survivor and the current Philadelphia Chapter President for Transplant Recipients International Organization (TRIO).


2 Responses to “Chronic Disease Coalition post: Guest author Jim Gleason discusses living an optimistic life in the face of chronic health conditions”

  1. kathleen magness Says:

    Hi, Jim. Was thinking about you so tried to find your blog again. Was just at a meeting with Joe Bavaria and other luminaries of the cardiothoracic surgery world. You remain the greatest ambassador for the transplant communities. God bless and have a happy Thanksgiving

    1. Jim Gleason Says:

      This is really strange since just today, while hosting a heart transplant support meeting with Dr. Margulies as the presenter, I was thinking about you. You played such a pivotal role in making this life I still lead and enjoy today, now in my 24th year with this transplanted heart. I can still hear your words when we met as the EF got down to 17, “It’s time. You need to cease employment and go to see the experts.” Without hesitation (you were my trusted partner in all this, as was Dr. Mark Real, our family physician who referred me to you) I followed that sage advice and when getting that HUP appointment was delayed, you made it happen NOW and even talked me up with the team there over a dinner you were at with them! I also still recall your loving support when I was going under to have a pacemaker installed and you delivered a stuffed animal from Janet as I was laying on a gurney for the procedure to get started. Kathy, YOU and she were such a blessing in my life then, and still so with a note like this that you left for me. Please know that that blog post is really what my life is like today, at age 74 (imagine that!), filled with wonderful activity and family love with my soul-mate wife, Pam (herself a ‘donor mom’ – another story there). Listen, any chance we could get together for lunch or dinner so I could share so much more of what your support has meant for this amazing life I enjoy today? My treat (smile). I would drive over to any area of PA to make that happen with you. Are you up for something like that? My e-mail is gleasonjim@aol.com or call 609-877-4493 to set a date and time. PS: Maybe we could get Janet to join us for this reunion and story telling date???

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