I ALWAYS engage with empathy people serving me in any store, especially when things are so overwhelming as they are these challenging days. Just back minutes ago from our local ACME, with a cashier (maybe a manager subbing for a cashier on break – as she was waiting on me (with a long line behind me) trying to orchestrate via her phone some other workers in nearby departments), I engaged her with smiles and empathy, thanking her for being there for me, wishing her to ‘Stay safe” as I finished. Well, you get the idea. But that’s my NORMAL (no surprise to you, huh?) No matter how tired or harried, that never fails to get a smile in return (and probably gets the next customer in line at least a smile of welcome now…).

Earlier this morning, I went to our local Target store to get some laundry detergent, etc. as we were just starting to run low (never one to wait until a real need!). The store (about 10:30am) was pretty empty, so I (like you) wandered the aisles (even their food aisles) after picking up those cleaning supplies, just enjoying the quiet. Workers refilling the shelves were in good spirits given the current shopping challenges and hording (many shelves were empty of paper good and cleaning supplies, as expected). As I returned to the front check out area, I noticed two things. One, lines at the few registers that were open, with large baskets of goods to check out. “Oh well!” Not surprises as I resigned myself to waiting in those lines. Two, I noticed they were advertising a $40 reward if you opened up a “Redcard”, whatever that was? But hey, if you are going to give me $40, I need to know more so proceeded to the customer service area only to find 3 in line with nobody behind the counter. “Ah, no big deal..” so I just joined that line which found an employee from the food area pressed into service to fill that void. She was VERY patient with the first very elderly lady who had to write a check or something. Quickly she cleared the next two and then it was just me. I explained and found this was the Target credit card that would not only get me that $40 but also 5% off anything I buy at Target. (I don’t shop Target but once or twice a year). I fumbled filling out the application on their windowed sign-in device and had to start over. She was most patient as we worked together to complete the application which was instantly approved (she expressed positive surprise which made me feel like I had won something). Once done, she asked if I wanted to checkout my filled cart with her at this customer service counter (nobody had come in line behind me, thank goodness). I thanked her for taking the initiative in keeping me from having to go to the end of those other long checkout lines! Once finished (she even asked for help from a bagger so I didn’t have to do anything as they refilled my cart with bags), I asked for a manager and was told there was one right behind me (stocking a display of paper towels that were in demand). “Charles, “ I called out, “I want to say how great job this young lady (used her very unusual name that I can’t recall right now, but did then) for me.” He generously added his own praise for her in response and the three of them and myself were all beautiful smiles as I left, feeling so good about my 5% and $40 adventure. But then, that’s my ‘normal’ experience, and I couldn’t resist sharing it with you, my friends, and welcome you to share it with others if you feel like it. Maybe others will smile and share that smiles with their encounters these days.

Staying safe here in NJ with beautiful 78-degree weather, hoping this finds you doing the same wherever you are in reading this.

Recently my wife, a ‘donor mom’, and I were invited to add an after-play chat with the audience of a local Bridge Street Players production of this play about a heart transplant patient making contact with their donor family. It was a great play filled with strong emotions and fun-filled humor that rang pretty true to real-life experience which in fact, that play is based on, according to a later encounter we had with the playwright, Sean Grennan out of NYC. If you are looking to promote organ donation in your own local area, I would strongly recommend reaching out to Sean to see if a production could be scheduled for your local theatrical group.

Sean’s web site is HERE.

Pam (on the right) and I (center) posing with the cast of The Tin Woman performed in Burlington Feb 2020 by the Bridge Street Players

Way back on October 19th,1994, Dr. Mike Acker (Hospital of the University of Penn) performed my heart transplant. Still decades later I am proud to say we are good friends, often working together on UNOS/OPTN heart and allocation issues.

Little did I know Mike was also a talented musician as seen here in this Penn promo video:

Coming from the perspective of having received a life-saving organ (heart) transplant (25 years ago now), I found this to be a fascinating read, especially the insightful personal experiences (shared honestly both successes and failures) of a transplant surgeon as this author is.

The histories of each organ transplant story were also fascinating, but with much prior reading, I was familiar with most of those already, so it was the uniqueness of this very personal perspective that added interest for me. Those makers of transplant history each tell a story of passion and perseverance, even when they had to ‘swim upstream’ against their peers of the day, often losing patients either during surgery or much too shortly thereafter, not from rejection (although that was certainly the majority until the early 1980’s when the modern age of immune suppressant drugs were developed), but from other complications as most were weak and near-death to even be considered for the still-experimental surgery. Of special interest was the telling of early xenotransplant surgeries that in fact kept dying patients alive for various surprising lengths of time, but always failing. That is an avenue still being explored in today’s ago of organ donor shortage with increasingly positive outcomes, so expect to see that come on-line in the years to come.

Definitely a unique and interesting read even if you arent connected directly with organ transplantation. As one who is still alive because of a donor who gave their gift after life had ended, I hope this reading will serve to encourage readers to register as organ donors when they see the many positive outcomes in the many patient stories the author shares from his own work in this rewarding field of modern medicine.

To hear an NPR “Fresh Air” interview with this author, click here

I love to read! Variety is the way I would describe my reading preferences, usually enjoying 5 books at a time, some hard copy, others on a Kindle device, still others as audible books mainly for listening in the car on long and short trips. Last year my Goodreads goal was 24 books and by 2019 year’s end, I had read and reviewed 54 books despite a very busy life outside of reading time. This year my goal for 34 is already ahead of schedule with two completed in the first two weeks of 2020.

My current read is so good, I wanted to share it here and hope it inspires you to both enjoy your own reading list, but to add this awesome but disturbing real-life story to your list:

WOW! This amazing book came by way of several strong recommendations and once begun reading (despite having 5 other books in the current process of reading), I couldn’t put it down. Now that is what happens when I receive a novel by my favorite author, Charles Martin, always finishing his new releases the day they get delivered, but that’s never happened with a non-fiction book like this one. Opened and read to its end, some 350 pages later, finished in just 2 days, my sign of an exceptional read!

As the title suggests, JUST MERCY: A Story of Justice and Redemption, is the author’s personal account of a career, no make that ‘his vocation’ or calling, as a lawyer offering probono legal service to first, prisoners on death row, and later expanding that to juveniles who have been sent to prison for life, that is ‘to die in prison’ with no chance for parole. The tragedies of our legal system come out in story after story of injustice focused on the poor and minorities that too often find themselves the victims of prejudice and even illegal treatment/trials when they are obviously innocent. The book reads like a murder mystery novel except these are real-life stories of people with no hope, some imprisoned for fifty and more years, when Bryan Stevenson and his team arrive, very overworked, offering hope and a listening ear. The legal system and police, lawyers and judges too often ignore new evidence and testimony with legal maneuvers protect the original sentencing despite obvious mishandling at the original sentencing.

This is a hard book to read in some respects, given the human injustice and long-time suffering of the victims in his stories, adults and underage prisoners in jail for life. But at the same time, there are stories of success, told in such heart wrenching human emotional narrative involving family and communities still supporting prisoners they know were not the murders they were judged to be. Its also a hard read because you, the reader, feel so helpless in seeing the background and inhumaine treatment endured by the innocent or incapacitated so helpless in the system before Bryan and his team take on case after case, many winning releases, but too often unable to turn the tide of the executions despite obvious evidence of their innocence.

Supported by 20 pages of notes and a complete index, this is a frustrating but very educational read that should be part of everyone’s eye-opening exposure to the injustices he shares. One is left with an empty feeling of wanting to do something, but not knowing how to help. In his final pages, the author does link us to the legal support organization and right now I am going to go there to, at the very least, along with promoting their work with this book review, see if I can make at some financial donation to help them give hope to the hopeless.

Oct 19th, 2019 – it’s now officially my 25th heart transplant anniversary. I never take for granted each day of life extended in having received that 38-year-old heart back in 1994, 2-1/2 decades ago! How rare that was in terms of longevity was brought home recently when I read the following in a Washington Post magazine article that included these words:
“Heart transplantation is now close to commonplace, with more than 2,000 a year performed in the United States alone. It extends life but is not without problems, still. For reasons that are not yet clear, transplant recipients tend to develop coronary artery disease more rapidly than most people. Transplant survival rates, while vastly better than before, are still not extraordinary. Only half survive for 10 years or more. Fifteen years is considered excellent. Twenty is remarkable. Twenty-five is nearly unheard of.”
Wow, …nearly unheard of! Those words jumped off the page and I have found myself both reflecting on that milestone and sharing those words with many a friend and fellow patient, challenging them with the opportunity to enjoy life themselves for decades as I have, and continue to do so.

Now you too have heard and can join in my amazement of having this daily challenge of how best to make use of this gift of life today, twenty-five times 365 days a year and God willing, many more to come!

To celebrate Roberto’s gift, yesterday Pam and I gave testimony and his story at our church’s Sunday service and then hosted with a delicious homemade luncheon (well, Pam’s homemade lunch at least, all I did was iced 100 small cupcakes with red sprinkles and paper with hearts on each) a Koinonia social time honoring his memory as seen in this photo:

Marking my upcoming Oct 19th 25th heart transplant anniversary, I’ve been trying to go that
extra mile to use that milestone to educate the public that organ transplants work and often offer great life extensions
with my story with special thanks to my heart donor, Roberto Cuebas

(<– his photo seen here).

 

 

On June 10th I was honored with the UNOS National Donor Memorial award for service to the transplant community, especially with 20+ years of UNOS committee and twice UNOS board three year elections to serve on that board.  I wanted to share that special moment where both my wife, Pam (herself an organ donor mom) and Regina Cunningham, CEO for the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania where I received that heart transplant and who sponsored my nomination for this unique award.

Join me for that event with this video recording (and know that when Sue Dunn, UNOS president, made her award presentation, she covered all of the points I was about to mention in my well prepared and practiced talk to follow, I had to throw away my 5 pages of notes and just ‘wing it’!)

 

My good friend, Mary Wu, shares via her blog beautiful inspiring stories from her life that always end with an engaging question/invitation to her reader.
Today she wrote about family and friends special times involving food and asked in conclusion:
“When has something so simple been so incredible in bringing you closer together to share and care for each other? Have you ever been in a place of sharing so comfortably and easily with people outside your inner circle? What childhood memory do you have of food or some other commonality that brought your loved ones together?”

I would like to share my response to her (Her invites are so well done that I always respond to her!)

Mary:
I’m always too busy with other priorities to read and respond to your Blog Updates, BUT since they are so well written and end with an engaging thoughtful question/invitation to share the reader’s feedback to your topic, I drop those other priorities and treat myself to your next read and then find memories or life experiences to share back to your invite.

So it is with today – “Sorry no time to read and write…” but I did just stop other tasks to read this one and now must respond as usual.

Recalling my childhood adventures in the early 1950’s:
As to my childhood cooking memories, your prose brought back beautiful memories of going out to the local woods and picking blackberries with my wonderful father (we share that love and special blessing of the dad’s you and I had/have in our lives, learning over time in conversations with friends how very rare that ‘special dad’ is, given how few have that like we do/did).

Then we would come home and start cooking up the blackberry jam that was so very special (Ah, those peanut butter – Skippy of course – and jelly/jam sandwiches with this homemade treat from our picking labors which added to its taste). Mary, thanks for getting me to take time out today to revisit those memories.

As adults, my wife, Pam, and I shared a simple unique visit with a good friend down in Georgia peach country when after his very special birthday party for his very special dad (which we had been invited to and driven down to Birmingham Alabama from NJ to attend – what a vacation trip that was!!!), and all the guests had left, we were staying at their home for the night and thus remained behind for quieter family time together. Mark’s father had brought over a basket of freshly picked peaches from his home in GA. We ended up in the kitchen, sitting on stools across the cutting table from Mark’s lovely and so friendly wife, Alison, offering to join her in peeling those peaches.

What a special time of just chatting and working on the food preparation of fresh Georgia peaches with beautiful family friends!!

Back in time to 1956:
Wow, and that just brought back another unique childhood memory. After 8th grade I attended a special high school near my home where you lived at the school and they ran a farm that supplied the school with fresh food for the meals there. On Wednesdays and Saturdays, we attended classes half-days and worked on the farm the other half day. On the day in this memory we were off the full day, trucked off to a distant peach orchard to pick baskets of peaches for the orchard owner, with some of that picking to come back with us to the school farm to be blanched, peeled (oh the bees and yellow jacket wasps were all over the sweet smelling outdoor processing area as we did our labors) and canned for later use. Two very special parts of that experience are still vivid in my mind these 6 decades later. First, we were not allowed to eat any of the beautiful peaches we were picking for that farmer that morning. The grove filled with bushel baskets of overflowing luscious fruit. At noon we were treated to farm fresh milk and meat and cheese sandwiches, and THEN, it was announced that we could go among those baskets and pick any peach we wanted to eat fresh from the tree for dessert!!! After a morning of ladder climbing and picking them, I can’t put words to how we wished we could have eaten them, and now to be allowed to choose the biggest and best of them – “WOW!!”

But that wasn’t the end. As I said we returned to the school farm (no, this wasn’t as you may be thinking some youth detention facility, I was studying to become a future religious brother in their community at their high school novitiate!), we prepared the fruit as described in the hot summer sunshine above. That night at the evening meal we were treated to fresh peach ice cream made with the product of our labors that morning! “Double WOW!!” (laughing out loud at this telling and enjoyment of that unique life experience).

Well, like I said, I don’t have time to read nor respond to your blog invitation (if you want to share this with your readers in any way, I have no issue with that by way of showing how your writing touches lives like mine and theirs) with so much to do here.

Mary, you are such an inspiration with your sharings that touch our hearts ‘out here’ in your world of readers. Thank you!!!

Jim Gleason
reflecting on wonderful life memories from so many years ago

Just came across this sharing written back in 2003. Don’t know if it was ever posted here, but just in case, here is my very emotional and insightful tribute to this gift from my father, also named “James Michael” . . .

My dad, James Michael Gleason, Sr.

As a young boy/man, I had grown up with a sense of “real men don’t cry” and prided myself on controlling my emotions, never showing any tears.  Even falling in love and getting married with a growing family didn’t change this stoicism.  It was the way of the strong man, or so I believed.

My father was a beautifully “simple” man in a very positive sense, simple in the sense of how he approached people and life in general.  “He never met a stranger…” would be a good description of his outgoing nature, also something he passed along to me. He interacted with anybody, always with spirited conversation and a sense of everybody was good and deserving of respect.  I can never remember his raising his voice in anger, toward me or anybody in our family of 5 growing children.  He always had time to share with everybody his many interests and they were engaging times when he did. 

When dad died of heart failure in 1969, I was the oldest male (26 years of age) in the family and supported my mother in making the funeral arrangements.  Even in this new experience my sense of pride in having no feelings continued.  There were no tears despite this loss.  Dad was 50 at the time of his death.  I had been at his hospital bedside just hours before he passed, feeding him and shaving him, seeing for the first time his vulnerability.  He had always been very self-sufficient, showing us all a healthy, vibrant life style of “can do” in everything he did.  He enjoyed the emotions of being truly human and wasn’t afraid to show that side of himself, although in retrospect, I can’t recall being hugged or told, “I love you.”  This was a generation that  didn’t express themselves in that way, but rather in many other ways.

On the morning of dad’s funeral, I was equally stoic, feeling a sense of manhood in being there for mom during such a trying moment without showing tears or emotions.  As the religious burial service drew to a close in the old church, I led the procession with mom on my arm, as we slowly preceded dad’s coffin down the aisle. 

It was at that moment that dad’s greatest gift was bestowed on his son (and I find my eyes tearing up even as I write these words, 33 years later..) as the moment welled up from deep inside, emotions of sorrow never acknowledged before.  Tears came to my eyes and for the first time in my life I accepted them without restraint, letting the drops run down my cheeks and fall to the church floor.  A very strong sense of pride came with those tears and I found myself holding my head up higher than I had ever done before, with mom on my arm, making no attempt to wipe away or hide those tears.

Clearly this was dad’s legacy to his son.  From that day on I have found great joy in both feeling and sharing my human emotions, yes, even the tears – tears of sorrow, tears of joy, tears of uncontrolled laughter.  I have come to see the sharing of tears as one of the greatest gifts two humans can give each other.  Every time such emotions are now accepted in my life, I offer silent prayers of gratitude to a father who gave this gift at his own death. 

My life has never been the same since, and that is a very good thing.  Today as I celebrate my heart transplant’s 9th anniversary, I openly share tears of gratitude for my donor family and tears of joy for the life I now lead as a result of both their gift and that of my dad.  In dad’s case it was too early to have been given that same chance since heart transplants were not yet available.  In my case, dying with the same heart condition dad had, my mother pointed out the fact that in my case we had a choice, while in his we hadn’t.  Yes, that thought fills me with emotions too, every time I recall it.

To download (a PDF document) and read a full testimonial to my dad, go to https://www.rjwitte.com/changeofheart/GiftFromTheHeart/Section2/chp-33b-Memories-of-My-Dad.pdf

Recently TIME magazine solicited 30-second videos for their annual Optimism issue (who knew they did that each year?), and being the optimist that I have been all my life – a gift from my father I feel – naturally I created one around the message of being an organ donor which you can see below (scroll down the images of videos until you see me in the left side against a black background): http://time.com/optimists-videos/

or click on this image . . .