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What an amazing life this continues to be, now 74 years on this planet earth, life extended through the donated gift of a heart in that heart transplant back in October of 1994 for yet 23 years so far.  In growing up, someone who was 50 was ‘old’ and even as a young parent visiting aging relatives I saw some who in their mid-50’s were retired, spending their days sitting in a comfortable chair, watching TV.  Life for them was just waiting for that final date with destiny, death.  In those days use of the word ‘cancer’, for example, was avoided, instead it was the ‘Big C’ at had only one outcome, death.

How different life is today, at least in my personal experience, having overcome prostate cancer, skin cancers and even kidney cancer (and a recent concern for pancreatic cancer that after many extensive tests they could never find despite symptoms!) thanks to modern medicine and the blessing of great support teams who watch over my medical issues, taking care of each event as it comes with advancing age.  Who would ever have foreseen living to their mid-70’s from the perspective of our busy lives in the past decades.  Both for myself, and in conversations with family and dear friends, this is a common reaction of surprise when we stop and realize, “Wow, how did I get to this age?”  Even 75 is no longer seen as being old as we continue living active lives, even when those advancing years come with changing perspectives on what is no longer easy  or possible as the body begins to show signs of wear with those year of service.

It was in this context that recently I was set back on my heals when my wife reacted to something we were talking about with “Well, you may live to be 90.”  “Ninety?”  “Ninety!”  What a new and shocking thought.  At 74 now, I did that quick arithmetic and realized that ninety wasn’t all that far away anymore.  “Wow!”  Never had I stopped in my busy days to ever consider such a possibility.

Florence at 100

With Florence celebrating 100th birthday

Yes, we had family and friends who lived to ripe old 90’s and even 100’s, but others died or are facing death even today while in younger 70’s or younger.  I have always accepted the fact of life, admitting in public presentations even, that “When I was born I realized that I had only one guarantee and that was that someday I would die.”  Simple fact – nothing to worry about – never losing a moment of life worrying about that eventuality.

Trina 2016

Heart transplant in ’94

Over the years I have actually come face to face with my own death many times, and lived to tell about it.  At 18, almost killed in a truck crash, at 50 almost died of a failing heart while snorkeling on the Great Barrier Reef off Australia (had an interesting laughing conversation with God during that event), then there was the heart transplant in ‘94, and most recently, even though I didn’t know its severity at the time, of emergency gall bladder surgery this past February with all the complications resulting in a 9 day hospitalization and a dire medical forecast given to my wife that “Jim probably will not leave this hospital alive.”  Not knowing that last forecast while I was hospitalized, I just kept living each day to my best and today am fully recovered, feeling younger than I have in years with a knee and hip replacement that makes pain free mobility possible again.

Jim Gleason at the river

“My mind (and heart) remain open to the possibilities . . .”

90!  I honestly don’t know what to make of that thought.  I continue to live each and every day to its fullest, so even reflecting on the daily challenges put forth in the book I am reading, “One Moment to Live: Thirty Days to a No-regrets Life”  But that eye opening moment of my wife’s comment keeps coming to mind.  What would you do different if you knew you only had 30-days to live, the theme of that book, doesn’t give me moments of regret.  I look back on a very blessed life lived fully, from childhood through to today, and accept the unknown of a tomorrow as yet another exciting adventure, an opportunity to serve and enjoy the many wonderful people in my life.  What more can one ask for in life.  When I see the trials and challenges those around me are facing, I count my blessings and am thankful to a loving God for these many gifts.

TGA 2012 Jim in pool thumbs up

Today and tomorrow are yet more examples of how I feel each day in rising, as I repeat my favorite mantra: “Wow, another day above ground.  This is going to be a great one!

In closing, I pray and wish that for you too, a new day of love filled living, coming closer to reaching your fullest potential.

Bless you for your role in my wonderful life.  Thank you for being YOU!  As Oscar Wilde has said: “Be yourself; everyone else is already taken.”

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After a recent emergency surgery and complication post-surgery issues resulting in a nine day hospital stay, I returned home to recover for what was forecast as a six to eight week timeframe. I am happy to report their prediction was right on and today I feel completely back to normal life after that interesting recovery coming through what I now recognize as several stages. Thanks for all your concerns/prayers of support, those prayers were answered!

Looking back over those weeks, I offer the following observations or lessons learned. Coming home was most welcome despite the fine care received at the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania. I learned afterwards that during those 9 days there were times when it was thought that I would not come through this alive (a prognosis shared with my wife, but not myself until I had come home for a while). But that was not to be this time around. Coming into the house was a careful and somewhat painful transition, but with a huge snowfall predicted for that night, we just beat it in time. The next days and nights were spent enjoying my swivel and adjustable lounge chair that proved amazingly comfortable, allowing Pam the bed alone so she could get well-earned night’s sleep before going off to work each day. I enjoyed much sleep and rest just as the doctor ordered, clearing my often busy calendar of anything that would hinder that process. But the frustration was in the loss of appetite, a sign of phase one in that recovery process. Getting on the scale I found I had not only recovered from my pre-hospitalization dehydration weight (had lost 15 pounds leading up to the event), but added a few more in what I assume was water retention for a total increase of 20+ pounds. With little desire to eat, that quickly went off but I do wish I could enjoy food again.

The next stage found my appetite back looking for tasty foods. With each idea – ice cream, cookies, orange juice and Cran-flavored juices (we eventually had 8 or more Ocean Spray Cran-flavored quarts in the frig!) no matter the food or drink, nothing fulfilled that desire, how frustrating a search. So weight came off (Yeah!) and I was enjoying the restful vacation which slowly turned back to taking on voluntary tasks of purpose as opposed to tasks of commitments, so no stress and lots of procrastination with the excuse of ‘I can do that tomorrow.’

Then I discovered the secret taste bursting fruits in those small green, red and purple seedless grapes! Talk about your easy snacks, just picking a few off the stems throughout the day. Wow, they were so tasty and good. Later we discovered that grapes could be kept frozen and taken a few icey cold and tasty bursts of flavor as snacks too. We kept a pound or so of each (especially when found on sale for $1.99/lb vs. the usual $3.99 or even $4.99/lb prices) that were added to every possible meal – grapes cut in half were added to different flavored Special K cereals – we had as many as 7 different flavored cereals in the kitchen cabinet to choose from each morning. That grape/banana cereal mix along with a glass of fresh squeezed orange juice (even tastier than the usual bottled OJ) got each day off to a great recovery start. When it came to making a lunchtime salad, those same grapes (I don’t know why I kept cutting them in half) became the flavor burst on the bed of lettuce, grape tomatoes, cran-raisins, shredded Italian or Mexican cheese, Pepperoni slices, apple slices (how did apples get SO expensive, like $3.99 a pound!), banana slices, Italian croutons and of course Thousand Island (or Catalina) dressing. I so wish I had taken a picture of what had become a mountain of a salad, so tasty and colorful!

Speaking of those expensive apples (seriously, one apple would come out as $1 and more at those prices!), I found myself treating them like gold. Cut in half to create two separate servings from each, with three types of apples in the fruit bowl at one time – I tried to compare the texture and unique flavors of each both in those salads or sliced with peanut butter, another recovered appetite treat. In that way three apples would last more than a week of flavorful enjoyment. In the earlier weeks, I was not allowed to drive, so when those privileges were restored, as Pam told one men’s cooking demonstration at our church, Jim’s favorite hobby became shopping trips to the local Acme.
Free at last! Fully motivated to get engaged with my normal busy schedule and tasks again with that appetite back to full normal, I have put back on a few of those lost pounds, but am watching that carefully. The surgery and its serious complications are now but the latest part of my long and complex medical history, a story to be shared to those who would listen over a shared lunch meeting (smile!)
Go try those grapes, frozen or fresh and see if you agree at that amazing treat!

PS: I’m out of grapes right now and am finishing off the last of those eight Cran-flavored quarts, moving forward with a new resolve to move away from the daily sweets I so love, focusing on healthy foods and further weight loss in the weeks to come. Wish me luck!

PPS: They recently came out with a Cran-pineapple flavor that is to die for – temporarily overtaking my Cran-grape and Cran-cherry favorites!

On a less personal story, while at that Washington DC conference last week I had a conversation with another attendee and in sharing the story about encountering a fellow attendee from the same small Edgewater Park NJ town, she shared her own ‘small world’ encounter traveling to this event.20170330_135722

She took a flight out of Denver to get here where she found herself seated next to a fellow traveler on his way from L.A. CA, not too busy scoring college blue book exam papers to engage her in polite conversation.  Seems her daughter is attending a small college some half hour from L.A. so when she discovered he was a college professor, she was surprised to also find out that he taught at that very school.  Naturally she asked if he happened to know her daughter by name.  Him not being sure, she shared a phone picture of her daughter.  “Ah yes, ” he acknowledged he not only knew her but realized that she was even taking one of his classes.  Reaching down to the small pile of blue book exams, the very next one he was scoring was her daughter’s exam paper.  What a ‘coincidence’ – if you believe in such things.

She couldn’t wait to get off the plane in Washington to call her daughter back in L.A. to let her know that she scored an ‘A’ on her exam!

I swear this is all TRUE, strange as it may seem to you.  It really is a VERY small world as I am sure you have discovered in your own life, yes?  You only have to be open to life’s adventures and have that  conversation with that stranger who took this later flight when his was weather delayed the day before when he was scheduled to fly.  And then to sit next to his student’s mother and to share in conversation that brought out this unique ‘blue book’ connection.   And then to be sharing that story with me the next day over a conference lunch, so I could share it with you here now.

I live in Edgewater Park, NJ, a 3 sq mile ‘township’ with little more than 2000 families living here.

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Attending a meeting down in Washington DC last week, you can imagine my surprise in chatting with a new found friend at the art museum reception when he replied to my answer to his question of “So, where are you from?” saying that he had originally lived in that same tiny town area.  Mentioning our currently living directly across from the Beverly National Cemetery, he cited his home was on a nearby street from there.  What are the chances, huh?

Yes, we need to live our lives like we all live in ‘small town America’ never knowing who we may encounter in our world of travels.  And do you see that Edgewater Park phrase on the banner (“…town with a big heart”) – what a great place for this heart transplant guy to live!!

But as you will see in the next posting, part 2 of this topic, it can get even smaller . . .

So I do get a fly shot every year about now, but hadn’t given it a thought just yet. Today shopping in our local Acme food store, passing their pharmacy area, there was this store-wide announcement about their giving flu shots with no cost as most insurance companies and Medicare cover it completely. Well, why not! I stopped my cart and asked to have a flu shot. No cost and so easy being right there anyway.

Imagine my surprise when after that shot she gives me a coupon good for 10% off today’s shopping as a flu shot bonus! I saved $11.75 on that order, so in a very real way, I was PAID TO GET MY FLU SHOT! Life is so good.

Be sure you get yours… even if they don’t pay YOU for it.

Just came across this short piece and wanted to both affirm it from my personal life experience and share it by way of inspiration to you:

Growing Older, Getting Happier

Older people tend to be happier than younger people, and their happiness increases with age, a study in the Journal of Clinical Psychiatry reports.

Researchers contacted 1,546 people ages 21 to 99 via random telephone calls and found that older age was, not surprisingly, tied to declines in physical and cognitive function. But it was also associated with higher levels of overall satisfaction, happiness and well-being, and lower levels of anxiety, depression and stress. The older the person, the study found, the better his or her mental health tended to be.

The researchers used well-validated scales to assess mental health, although the study relied on self-reports and was a snapshot in time that did not follow an individual through a lifetime. Other studies have found similar results linking advancing age and higher levels of happiness.

The reasons for the effect remain unclear, but the senior author, Dr. Dilip V. Jeste, a professor of psychiatry at the University of California, San Diego, had some suggestions.

“Brain studies show that the amygdala in older people responds less to stressful or negative images than in a younger person,” he said. “We become wise. Peer pressure loses its sting. Better decision-making, more control of emotions, doing things that are not just for yourself, knowing oneself better, being more studious and yet more decisive.

“This is good news for young people, too,” he added. “You have something to look forward to.”
life in shadows

So, what sayest YOU?

A version of this article appears in print on 08/30/2016, on page D4 of the NewYork edition with the headline: Growing Older, and Happier.

Attending the UNOS board meeting this week in Richmond VA, I found myself sitting at the reception chatting with a young lady and new board member with her name tag proclaiming “Trine…” In excitingly sharing a recent experience of participating in a liver transplant for her first time, even describing that excitement with her bantering with the transplant team there, “Let’s do more of these!” – you can only imagine!

As we chatted, suddenly I realized I knew her! While I had never met her before in person, in fact I have used her amazing story in my slide deck for speaking about organ donation, titled “Why We Do This” hundreds of times as an example of the success of transplantation, especially when a pediatric organ transplant can be the foundation of a life story that can be captured into their adult lives. Trine was the first child liver recipient in Florida back in the 1980’s, still the very pioneering days of liver transplants.

Trina at age 2, a sickly child, later transplanted with a liver at age 8

Trine at age 2, a sickly child, later transplanted with a liver at age 8

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

As a young adult, she entered medical school to become a transplant surgeon, leading to this encounter described above.

August, 2009, and Trine Engebretsen, 26 years later, is part of FIU's inaugural medical school class. "Always have faith and hope. It's not too late, until you're no longer alive, so hang in there. Good things will happen," she said. PS: Trine met her husband while helping him through the process of getting his own liver transplant

August, 2009, and Trine Engebretsen, 26 years later, is part of FIU’s inaugural medical school class.
“Always have faith and hope. It’s not too late, until you’re no longer alive, so hang in there. Good things will happen,” she said.
PS: Trine met her husband while helping him through the process of getting his own liver transplant

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Trine at the operating table in 2016!

Trine at the operating table in 2016!

 

 

Trine, first both transplant couple to give birth (husband is a liver recipient too)

Trine, first both transplant couple to give birth (husband is a liver recipient too)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

and in conversation at this UNOS event with me we took this ‘selfie’ together:

Trine and me 2016 at the June UNOS board meeting where she is now an incoming board member

Trine and me 2016 at the June UNOS board meeting where she is now an incoming board member

 

 

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