"While my heart always skipped a beat for Theresa, it skipped a few too many beats over the years. Several people on my mother’s side of my family suffered from heart disease, so I knew I might, too."
I first met Theresa when we were sophomores at the New Jersey School for the Deaf in West Trenton. I knew the minute I met her that she was the one I wanted to be with for the rest of my life. We dated for seven years and then decided to get married. We raised two children and have three grandchildren.
While my heart always skipped a beat for Theresa, it skipped a few too many beats over the years. Several people on my mother’s side of my family suffered from heart disease, so I knew I might, too. About 15 years ago, I had a pacemaker installed to help my heartbeat keep the right pace. Then, in the summer of 2017, my doctor gave me the news I wasn’t ready for. I was in end-stage heart failure. I was distraught. I didn’t feel really terrible. I was never dizzy or tired. I may have noticed a little bit of weakness, but nothing out of the ordinary. I had been a little bit quieter than normal, and I did get short of breath.
My doctor said my heart was becoming enlarged, and that I’d need a heart transplant. So, he sent me to see transplant surgeon, Dr. Howard Massey at Jefferson. In July 2017, I was admitted to the hospital to receive a PICC line. The line is used for a long-term IV for antibiotics, nutrition or medications. I have to admit, the medication running through the PICC line did help me feel better. I went back home. I had to leave my job as a clerk at the Hamilton Township (NJ) Post Office, but I was still able to get outside and walk around a little bit.
Theresa was very supportive. On weekends she would come home, do laundry and make sure our cats were fed. Then she’d come back to the hospital and spend the entire week with me—every week.
I was home until February 1, 2018, when I was told I needed to go into the hospital for the transplant. At first, I was excited. I thought I would get a transplant within two to three weeks. But then three weeks turned to four. Then a month and a half. Then two months. I was starting to get frustrated and a little bit upset. I tried to be patient, but I just wanted to be better. My doctors told me that it was hard to find an adult heart that would fit my tall body – I’m 6-foot-3.
While the wait was hard, everyone at Jefferson was sweet and really good to me. They made sure we had what we needed. They explained everything to us thoroughly. We had a live sign-language interpreter 24/7. And Theresa was very supportive. On weekends she would come home, do laundry and make sure our cats were fed. Then she’d come back to the hospital and spend the entire week with me—every week.
I was still awaiting a donor heart on March 14, 2018—my 58th birthday. A big group of nurses came into my room and sang “Happy Birthday” to me in sign language. My interpreter had taught them how to do it. That was fantastic.
On May 7, 2018, Theresa and I celebrated our 35th wedding anniversary in the hospital. Then, two days later, we had a bigger celebration: they had found a heart for me! I was ecstatic. They set up the surgery room. They gave me the IV. I went to sleep. I remember waking up in recovery, asking for Theresa. I asked her how the surgery went. She said it was successful. That made me feel good. I went right back to sleep—and it was 30 hours before I was awake again! Apparently, I was tired.
After my transplant, I spent two days in the ICU, then was upgraded to a regular room. I had a walker, but I didn’t want to use it. I was being stubborn. I took baby steps by myself. Everybody was pretty impressed that I was able to get up and walk.
I went home nine days after my transplant. I was sore for a while; it took about two months before I felt like it was healed up. Then I started feeling better. I used to get short of breath quite often when I had heart failure. That doesn’t happen anymore. Four months after the transplant, I returned to work.
I’m really thankful to Jefferson, the doctors, the nurses and my wife for all their support. I’m grateful for the chance to be active and play with my grandchildren when they come to visit. I’m happy to be back at work. And I’m thrilled to have more years to spend with the love of my life.