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It’s another busy beautiful Summer day here in Lake Wobegon, as my favorite radio showman, Garrison Keillor, would say. Up early and out to a men’s bible study, coming home to enjoy a quiet breakfast (fresh peaches on old fashioned Corn Flakes cereal with Vanilla Almond milk, an interesting blend of the old – those corn flakes were our childhood staple – and the new – that almond milk being better for you than the fat free dairy milk that was the last ‘better for you’ change of habits). Reading as I often do at meals, enjoying one of Garrison’s books (on my Kindle that constantly offers a time count down to the end based on current reading speed and a % finished by page count), my memories flash back on mom’s final day. She and I so enjoyed his recorded stories of life in Lake Wobegon. On that day, she had been sent to the local hospital to get a blood transfusion to offset some recently diagnosed anemia. My sister, Betsy, described the day as mom enjoying her Walkman recorded Keillor stories, laughing as the transfusion takes place over several hours. Once completed, they walked out the doors and mom appeared to be not doing well (76 years young?) but eager to “just get me home” at which point she collapsed and died. Sad for the family given how young she still was and engaged with so many grandchildren and family, but we all have a numbered days on this earth and I felt she was accepting and didn’t want to come back, despite the hospital’s efforts to help her.

We couldn’t have wished her a nicer passing, hours of enjoyable laughing at her favorite stories, quickly and painlessly moving on, in the arms of her daughter, Betsy. God’s blessing for a lifetime of caring for others over 55 years of a nursing career.

As my breakfast reading continued, I phased right into lunch (fresh locally grown Jersey tomatoes and American cheese sandwich on fresh soft bread – an annual Summer treat for me), reading and relating to Garrison’s childhood memories as my own were recalled. Inspired by his writings and finally finishing this book that I’ve been slowly savoring over many months of small readings, often feeling guilty at the seemingly meaningless pleasure of such light reading (vs. my deeper but not fully understood books about black holes, the origins of the universe, multi-universes, self-improvement – with too little turning into action – readings, etc). But we are meant to treat ourselves with such enjoyment, so I was moved to come back into my office and write this blog update that is neglected for too many weeks between entries due to a busy life of higher daily priorities – or so I tell myself.

I’m still deeply committed to finishing ‘our’ book that is way back on the back burner of daily life, with ambitions to add a few more new chapters (and add updates to many other now outdated chapters) in my ‘transplant tome’ of a book (over 100+ chapters already). Reading Garrison’s books inspires me, so today I add this blog, tomorrow I will begin that next new chapter of my “A Gift from the Heart” – raising its priority in that daily TO-DO list of other important tasks. ??????????????

Yes, life is good and fulfilling. I hope and pray that your own life is equally so, filled with meaning, fulfillment, fun and inspiration to do whatever it is that gives meaning to your own life each day.

Now off to begin that ‘new chapter’ updating life after heart transplant since the last entry of too many years ago… stay tuned – I will post a notice when its ready for your reading.

– Jim ‘the heart guy’ celebrating 20 years post transplant this Oct 19th

Today is my birthday.

The calendar says I’m 70 years alive on this earth ( I refuse to say “70 years OLD!”) but I am having  trouble for the first time in my life accepting that – well, I guess I have to accept it, but “believing it” – that’s a different story.  Seriously, leading up to this date, its been heavy on my mind and no birthday I can recall has ever been a concern or big deal before.  This is different, and it’s something about that milestone “70” that is making it different.

Eighteen years ago the doctors told me “Mr. Gleason, your heart is failing and without a transplant you have less than two years to live.”  I didn’t feel scared or excited about that, after all at that point I had lived a very successful and fulfilled life and long ago accepted that once born we are going to die “someday” and while I didn’t want to rush it just then (Sept 1994), it wasn’t as scary as you might expect that to be.  A heart transplant was an option, even if, as the social worker explained, “Mr. Gleason, this isn’t a black and white decision – we don’t know that your quality of life will be after a heart transplant.”  Well as those of you who know me, this “cookie monster” always sees things as being positive, so it was a quick and easy decision for me to say yes, I choose to live.

Arriving home Oct '94 post heart transplant

Arriving home Oct ’94 post heart transplant

Long story short, now almost 19 years later, that ‘quality of life’ has turned out to be very positive, with a busy and very fulfilled life finishing up a corporate career for the next dozen or so years, opting to retire in 2005 with plenty of life left to live and as so many young retirees often report, working harder in retirement with a freedom of choice to work without pay in causes I am very passionate about, giving it “all my heart” for many years now, never looking back.  Recently in sharing positive a transplant life can be presenting to a group of cardiac nurses, the head of that heart program asked “So Mr. Gleason, looking back on your heart experience these past almost two decades, what would you like to see different?”  After careful reflection I responded, “Absolutely nothing!”  I have no regrets and live each day to its fullest, each accepted as a gift of life for that day with a prayer of thanks for living God’s plan in love and service that day.

My choice for today: sitting by the river

Years later, choosing to relax by the river

Maybe it’s all those Facebook “Happy Birthday, Jim!” postings that have been popping up all day – thanks, everyone, for those greetings!  There have been literally hundreds, from close friends and some from long ago friends, not to mention some from those I have no clue who they are despite the subject line of “a friend of ‘known friend’s name’ wishes you a happ….” – very nice of everyone to share in my celebration of those 70 years, with a wish of “…and many more!” that serve as another reminder of this milestone day.  I love what our church leader said when my birthday was added to the list of celebrations for our Sunday service and she responded, “Yesterday’s seventy is today’s fifty!”  That’s what I feel and often have talked about that difference between our “chronological age” (that 70) vs. the more important “age we feel” and 50 doesn’t sound so bad right now.  Oh yes, those 70 year old knees do complain, but I’m still resisting any knee replacement just yet, taking an aspirin and vitamin supplement that claims to help the missing cartilage instead.

Yes, after a wonderful surprise birthday party with family and close friends followed by a busy day in church activities, I (we) opted for a 2-hour “recovery nap” this afternoon.  My younger sister responded to my attributing that to being a benefit of being 70 by saying she and her husband took afternoon naps even on their newlywed days (but I’m guessing that was from being tired for other reasons – smile – but loved the thought).

Too often we don’t get to see those beautiful people and memories because they are held until the person’s funeral, something we have often complained about saying, “Too bad the person didn’t hear all this testimony while they were still alive!”  Well I was blessed to hear all that at the birthday party, from family and even friends who have shared lives together.  How wonderful to hear Ray, my best friend for over sixty years now give testimony to that rare friendship with stories and memories of those many years together.  Then Karen, a much newer friend shared how we met (with God’s working) and reciting my book’s chapter explaining my famous Cookie Monster concept (<– click here to download a PDF document and read that).  Karen is the epitome of that CM personality and has been another of those many life’s delightful blessings with she and Ken matching up in an amazing way with Pam and I to become another of those rare “couple friendships” just as Ray and Joyce have been from our childhood days.  The party was truly another of those “once in a lifetime events” that Pam pulled off with much effort and love, reaching out to so many of our beautiful family and friends.  “Thank you all for responding to her invitation to make it so very great!

Jim & Ray, friends for 60+ years with many more to come . . .

Jim & Ray, friends for 60+ years with many more to come . . .

And that is something to celebrate now, not at one’s funeral, and we did!  And I thank God for each and every one of those beautiful people.

70 years young between loving family and friends

70 years young between loving family and friends at birthday party

So, yes, I’m seventy and living on tomorrow at 70+ one more day, a gift to be lived with gusto and appreciation, because today there are many people who will not see tomorrow, people who will not be there to hear those wonderful words of praise and thanks for what they gave in living their own lives of too few years.  We have today.  We are not promised a tomorrow.  So my sage advice from this new vantage point of being seventy is to take the gift of the present and make the best of it, living today as if it may be your last, and some day it will be exactly that.  I pray that you too will be able to say at that moment, I have lived a life of no regrets, nothing I would go back and change, having loved and accepted each of life’s challenges with the best I could offer.

I have, I did and I will continue until that final day comes, at which point I look forward with curiosity to seeing what that the promised afterlife is all about.  I’ve been led to believe it’s pretty awesome, so hope to see YOU there someday not too soon (smile)!

And a special thank you for all who posted on that Facebook with hundreds of greetings, pictures and love . . . you all make living so worthwhile!!!!

Family at the party:

"I didn't know grandpa was a math teacher!"

“I didn’t know grandpa was a math teacher!”

Son Michael and some of his family (Shane was home sick)

Son Michael and some of his family (Shane was home sick)

my tow sisters Betsy & Maggie with Mag's husband and son Craig

my two sisters, Betsy & Maggie with Mag’s husband, Barry, and son Craig

grandchildren, Caleb & Keira, party 'bartenders'

grandchildren, Caleb & Keira, party ‘bartenders’

Daughter, Susan, and husband, Chris (sister Betsy partially hidden)

Daughter, Susan, and husband, Chris (sister Betsy partially hidden)

our great "CM" friends, Karen & Ken

our great “CM” friends, Karen & Ken

good friends still together from our Unisys working days, Fritz & Rose,

good friends still together from our Unisys working days, Fritz & Rose,

our beloved pastor, Rev. John Doll came to both anoint and then give a blessing to the meal/event

our beloved pastor, Rev. John Doll came to both anoint and then give a blessing to the meal/event

and what dedicated and loving friends Bob & Sue have been for Pam and I

and what dedicated and loving friends Bob & Sue have been for Pam and I

Look back with me in these photos Pam posted at the big 70 party wall  (click on the photo for a closer/larger view)  . . .

pictures from over the years with family and friends at the party

pictures from over the years with family and friends at the party

Somebody said, “We can’t afford to put on the US Transplant Games any more.”  Somebody else said, “We can’t afford not to put on the games!”  That one believer/advocate went on to organize and lead a support team to host the new “Transplant Games of America” to be held with too short a time to put it all together in Grand Rapids, MI. and then went ahead anyway and made it all happen.  What a great time we all enjoyed there this past July.

Locally our Gift of Life Donor Program again pulled together the (in-)famous Team Philadelphia, known for its large size and strong medal winning team of transplant athletes, donor families and supporters (especially Howard Nathan and his staff).  While many couldn’t be there in person, you and they can now watch the Team Philly video of the 2012 games event here on the web.  Both Pam and I were fortunate to be a part of this grand fun adventure yet again.  The team photographers did a great job capturing everybody on our team.  Now, along with everyone team member, we look to see ourselves captured in these wonderful video moments that are now just a memory, but enjoyed again in watching this team video over and over.

Come, join in the fun as we watch it again: 

John "Jack" Crouse (1933 - 2010)

With the passing of 77 year old John (“Jack”) Calvin Crouse last evening, a victim of cancer, another generation of Crouse family has come to an end. Jack was my uncle and a close family supporter for these many years of my own family through his sister, my mother, Grace Madeline Crouse-Gleason. He was a gentle man who played an important part in my own life in those early formative years when such gifts are seldom noticed. It is in passing that one reflects back on moments in life in which a relative has made a difference and pauses to say thanks.

Jack, as we all knew him, was there early on when my 4 year old sister, Mary Ellen, was struck and killed by a motorist in one of those accidents that should never have happened but couldn’t be avoided with nobody really at fault. Jack was just a teenager back then in the mid 40’s when he came to support us in that time of loss. Recently, as he was dealing with his own fatal illness, I shared with him the chapter written about my own dad (“Memories of My Dad” which you too can read by clicking on that title)  which included my 5 year old recollections of that moment in time and his visit of support.  Jack enjoyed reading that chapter but shared that he couldn’t read that part as it still held too much emotional memory for him, even now some 60 years later.

Many years later and after returning from three years of living in Australia (what a neat experience that was for this young boy), in my own teen years, I found myself working summers at the Crouse Coal and Lumber Supply in Fords, NJ where Jack was the main force in this family owned business.  It was good hard work and I hold many fond memories of that outdoor physical labor that helped shape my life at that important stage of value formation as I began my college career at Seton Hall University, funding my tuition with the pay from this work.  Along with learning customer service, each day held a different adventure, like a freight car of lime or concrete mix (60 or 100lbs/bag) which fell to me (“the kid”) to offload, one bag at a time (only later did they buy a fork-lift to do that work), walking off the huge freight car over a wooden plank back deep into the storage shed, only to reverse it to get another bag until the car was finally empty which sometimes took a few days of that sweaty hot summer monotonous labor.  One very vivid memory of those days is when a family contractor friend asked Jack “if he could borrow the kid” for some foundation work on a house he was building.  (I love that ‘property like’ reference to “the kid” and how easily my labor was given away… yes, even today it has a positive feel for me, pretty amazing).  And thus I found myself assigned to digging a long foundation trench in the hot summer sun, a trench that was mostly rock, very hard to dig in.  For a few days I “labored” at that task, later also having the fun of hammering flooring nails on the second floor of this house to be.  I returned to the lumber yard a new person, and in going back to college that Fall knew that I was not going to be a laborer in that way for the rest of my life, finding inspiration and new motivation in my classes.  It was simple thing for Jack, but for me it was life changing, and just one example of how one person can impact another’s life, probably without even knowing it.

Yes, “uncle Jack” was there for all of us, the younger brother to my mother, his older sister, especially after my dad passed away back in ’69 leaving us kids open to his influence and family care, most important for my youngest sister, Maggie, who needed a father image in her own developing years.  Jack was there for her in that special way and I know his passing will be an even greater loss for her because of that.  When a cousin, Marian Stone, was in need of support in her own final months, it was Jack (and Pat) who reached out in support for her needs, his usual gift of self for family again.

After Jack took the “yard” through the dying business of coal and lumber supply into an office complex of sorts, he moved on to work as a toll collector on the NJ Turnpike, a seemingly simple job, but one that saw its share of abuse from drivers taking out their driving/toll frustrations on the collector in their booths.  Oh the stories Jack would tell us!

Holidays were family gathering time at our grandmother’s home in Perth Amboy and the table was filled with aunts and uncles.  I often sat next to uncle Jack, and with the unseen cooperation of someone on the other side of Jack, we interrupted his taking of food for his own plate by repeatedly asking “Jack, can you pass the …?”  He never seemed to catch on as he dutifully complied to our requests over and over, his own plate remaining empty as we filled ours with food and quiet smirking giggles at this family prank.

Jack's pride and joy...

Jack, proud owner of that beautiful antique green and white 1964 T-bird (I can still see him in his own retirement years sitting at the car shows enjoying the envy of the visitors looking over his “baby” and the day I stopped by and he treated me to a hot dog and soda as we sat and chatted about the show and his car…), will be missed, but his impact lives on as this next generation carries out his legacy through his gifts of influence passed along through that family support.  In later years, under the initiative of sister Maggie, Jack and Pat would join family (namesake, my brother John – also claiming “Jack” as his own name – Jack’s daughter, Gail and husband, Joe, Pam and I and Mag’s husband, Barry) for lunch at the nearby Panera Bread in Menlo.  Jack’s tastes were simple but family celebrated Jack’s memory with a post funeral fancy luncheon that probably would not have been his choice, but was certainly an appropriate family filled send off that sad day.

Jack and Pat, his wife of 37 years

It was very hard to see his painful last few months fighting cancer and so this passing for him was a final blessing.  Thankfully we visited together in those final days and he was lucid enough to recognize me and as was his usual way, no matter his pain or life situation, to ask, “So how are YOU feeling?” in a gentle whisper of strained voice.  It was obvious that this was to be a final good bye and thus it came as no surprise when the call came just two days later that he had passed quietly, finally giving up the good fight and leaving the pain behind.

One final thought of Jack is that he always seemed young.  Thinking about that, I realize that at 77 (and in those final days with gray hair and frail body wasting he certainly no longer looked so young), one can still be young of spirit, but that is no longer a young age.  I think the description would be better conveyed with  the word “ageless” and that is what Jack will always remain for me (and I’m sure his family too), AGELESS.

Our love and condolences go out to his wife, Pat, and daughter, Gail.  His was a quiet life of hard work, carrying on the family name until now when he is the last of that generation to rejoin the rest of his family in the life hereafter. 

“Thanks, Jack, for being who you were and sharing that with us all.”

and

“Thank you, Pat, for allowing me the honor of giving his eulogy for which the above memories/stories were recalled and shared.”

– little nephew, Jim

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.

Halloween is a time of costumes and children’s fun – and a grandfather’s pride.  Here are my son’s three  children as they were dressed for this 2008 Halloween:

Avery, Shane and Sabrina  October, 2008

Avery, Shane and Sabrina October, 2008

Is my book what you came for?  Then link to my free book: A Gift from the Heart

Introduction:

With AOL Hometown being discontinued (sad day) I am forced to find a new “web home” and WordPress seems to offer the resources and flexibility that my fit my style and thus, here I am!  So, with intent to both Blog and host web pages here, we are off and running.

Jim & Pam, and life is very good!

Jim & Pam, and life is very good!

Check out my background in the Pages to the right, beginning with ABOUT and continuing with a little background in the pages below that.

Also, check out the link to my free book, A Gift from the Heart, offered in memory of my heart donor, Roberto Cuebas, who back in October of 1994, lost his life in Brooklyn, NY, but in doing so, saved mine when his heart was donated and transplanted to replace my failing heart over in Philadelphia.  But wait, that’s what the book is all about, so go there to read the full story of the many years he and I have shared since that gift of life was donated.

Jim Gleason
e-mail: GleasonJim@aol.com