Heart Transplant: James' Story

“Your attitude in life is tremendously important. I want to live ‘til I die.”
- James, who had a heart transplant at UW Hospital in 2000
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James, who underwent a heart transplant at UW Hospital in 2000James underwent a heart transplant at UW Hospital in 2000.
Time to Think Positively
"I thought I would be the last guy to have heart issues. I was an athlete in high school and I never thought heart complications would be a major health problem for me. In 1981, I started to experience pain from what I thought was some type of stomach virus when, in fact, I had a heart attack. My heart attack resulted in damage to 84 percent of my heart and the doctors knew that I would probably need to have a transplant at some point. Once I received the news, I knew I had to think positively in order to get ready to fight my new health problem.

"To begin treatment, I was admitted into Rockford Memorial Hospital for seven weeks. I was then transferred to Stanford Medical Center where I received, what was described to me as a high-risk bypass surgery. I recall thinking that my attitude going into this type of surgery was going to be tremendously important. I decided that in order for me to get back on my feet after my surgery as quick as possible, I would need to think positively and hope for the best.
The Wait

"After my heart bypass procedure, I was back to work in three months. I made it nineteen years, until I went in for a check up and the doctors found that I had blockage in all of my arteries leading away from heart except for one. So in 1998, I was put on the heart transplant list and I was forced to quit my job. The waiting began.

"As I recall, it was a Saturday afternoon, on the sixteenth hole of a golf course when the hospital paged me. Even though I was excited to hear the news, I admit that I finished the round of golf before going home to return the hospital’s phone call! When I returned the call, I received some troubling news – I had gotten bumped from the top of the list. However, I continued to remain positive about the situation and I knew the people at the hospital were working with me and not against me. The next Monday, as I went out to get the morning paper, I received another phone call from the hospital. I answered the phone hesitantly, not expecting the best news but, this time I was told that a donor heart was ready for me. I was so excited!
Gift of a New Life

"On May 8th, 2000, I went to the hospital for my transplant. As I was on the surgery table, I tried to keep the mood light by cracking jokes. I just had a feeling that everything would work out in the end. After the transplant, I was eager to get up and run around and test my new heart, but I had to sit in a chair for 14 hours! Within a week after my transplant, I was able to jog thirty minutes on a treadmill with no problems. After four weeks in the hospital, I returned home. The next day, I rode my motorcycle to see all my friends. I felt extremely grateful to have received this gift of new life.

"I wanted to seek out my donor’s family to extend my gratitude to them for the new life they had given me. Eventually, I learned that my donor, C.J. Wrona, was only thirteen years old when he lost his life. I felt so remorseful and decided to write a letter to C.J.’s mother. After two years of waiting for a response, I received an e-mail inviting me to meet with C.J.’s mother and sister, Cori. Later, I danced with C.J.’s mother at Cori’s wedding and that moment was very special to me and one that I will never forget.
A Hole-in-One

"I am so thankful to be alive and watch my two children and four grandchildren grow. I was able to celebrate my 45th wedding anniversary and I now do speaking engagements for organ donation awareness around the area.

"Everyone at UW Hospitals has been so wonderful and I have only had pleasant experiences. Three months after my treatment, my doctor said, “Try a little golf!” He did not have to tell me twice! Since my transplant, I’ve had a hole-in-one and in 2006, at 66 years old, I shot par on eighteen holes of golf. Then, four months later, I was champion of a golf tournament. It felt great to feel alive again!"