Heart Transplant: Kieth's Story
"I met many doctors, nurses, technicians, counselors, and my very own transplant coordinator; my coordinator for “life” as I refer to her. I don’t remember the names of all the people involved but I will always remember their faces and their kindness and the skills they maintain in this miracle program."
-Kieth, who underwent a heart transplant at UW Hospital in 2005.
Kieth, pictured with his wife Cid, underwent a heart transplant at UW Hospital in 2005.
A "Broken" Heart
"My heart was broken; broken beyond repair. No amount of love or resolve could fix it. I needed a new heart and there were no alternatives, no back doors, no easy way out. There was no guarantee I would qualify for the transplant list, and if I did, no guarantee a heart would become available in time.
"I faced my own death; not “suppose” or “what if”, but the real thing. What should I do first? Am I afraid to die? I examined and questioned what I really believed in. Is there another life, another existence? I began to review all the implications that would occur as a result of my death. I had always wondered why dying people became so fixated with putting everything in order. Why not just go out and give it one last blast? It was not a morbid or uncomfortable process; it gave me a sense of well-being and comfort to plan for my death.
Preparing for the Call
"I had been given a dedicated cell phone with a crazy ring to be used only by the hospital if they found a heart. The first time it rang, my wife Cid and I were driving and we nearly flew off the road. I had just been given the phone, and the ring was so loud and unexpected that I nearly jumped out of my skin. I scrambled for the phone, only to hear a drunken man asking for “Bob”. My first reaction was anger because I had been so startled it scared me. I wanted to yell at him; “Are you nuts? Do you know what this phone is for?” It is impossible to ever prepare for that call; it could go off at any time, day or night. My life revolved around that phone, always charged and never without it. I got four more wrong numbers, and every time it rang I jumped a foot.
"Cid and I began living a different life. All the day-to-day duties fell on her as I continued to decline. I could no longer drive or walk very far and seldom went out. Occasionally, my heart would begin to beat erratically and I would lose consciousness and my implanted defibrillator would shock me back to life. There was a constant worry that one day the defibrillator might fail and the wait would be over. I was running out of time. My health had deteriorated to the point where my life expectancy was now being measured in weeks.
"Then it happened. The call came. We have a heart for you.
Like Water for a Flower
"The helicopter was out on another emergency so I traveled by ambulance. Two hours and six minutes later I was at the hospital, a “personal best” for the driver, start to stop, Green Bay to Madison. He weaved through traffic at ninety miles an hour, my body strapped to a gurney, sirens wailing. I was able to speak to Cid by phone, her voice barely audible over the din of the ambulance sirens. The rest of my family was coming from different places using different routes, all converging on the hospital. The transplant team was waiting and I was in surgery before any of my family arrived.
"My surgery lasted six hours, a long time for my family but just a blink of an eye for me. Five hours after surgery I was awake in the ICU with the breathing tube removed. With Cid by my side, I rambled on with anyone who would listen as the drugs took me along for the ride. My sister said I reminded her of her flowers at home. When she left for work she would water them, but the long hot day would deplete and wilt them by the time she returned home. She would water them again and she could actually see them plump up and become fresh and colorful. I went into surgery pale and weak and came out all rosy and pink and full of life. She said it was like someone had taken me into another room and watered me and then brought me back.
A Priceless Gift
"I was on the list for about 5 months before receiving my new heart. During that time I met many doctors, nurses, technicians, counselors, and my very own transplant coordinator; my coordinator for “life” as I refer to her. I don’t remember the names of all the people involved but I will always remember their faces and their kindness and the skills they maintain in this miracle program. The experiences and the care I received will always be a part of my life and it drives my empathy towards all those patients and families in similar circumstances. I make myself available to anyone who may be facing a transplant to help them with their fears and questions. The world is a better place as a direct result of the dedicated professionals and the donor families that enable transplant programs to exist.
"Very few people receive the gift of life twice; usually once at birth and that’s it. Some of us have the extraordinary experience of being the recipient of a second chance. This is an incredibly rare and priceless gift. Another family, while suffering a devastating loss, had the compassion and understanding to make something good happen out of their tragedy. I am profoundly aware of their loss and I will always share their sorrow as I celebrate the blessings of my life."