I received a call from the Cleveland Clinic transplant center coordinator on May 6, 2017 stating, they believed that they’d found a heart for me. I had been waiting for that call for 12 years. I had been diagnosed with congestive heart failure in 2005. My son was a junior at the Aurora high school that year. My youngest daughter was only three years old. My two older daughters were seven and 12 years old. My youngest never got to know a healthy dad. I had been a very active guy, exercising regularly at the Western Reserve Racquet & Fitness Club, loving my family’s life, and truly enjoying the work I was pursuing. I woke on a Monday morning at 4 am., unable to catch my breath. It woke my wife as well. “Are you OK?” – Of course. I was a professor, a teacher, a dad. My kids needed me, my students needed me. I had to get to my class. I denied my situation until later in the day, as my breathing forced me to seek emergency care. The Urgent Care ER doc yelled at me, he showed me the chest X-ray, and flew me to Univ. Hospital. There I was told, they had put me on a heart transplant list, I didn’t believe them, “I’m too healthy to need a new heart”, I mentioned this more than once. “There has to have been a test where the results were misconstrued,” I told them, “Last Saturday, I worked out with my son. We had a great workout, we finished playing 3 games of racquetball AFTER a two hour workout session, I can’t possibly need to be on a heart transplant list”. Three more days of testing proved to me, I was wrong, I was that sick! LIFE changed.Congestive Heart Failure, what a dreadful name! I was horribly torn. I knew someone was going to have to die so that I could continue living. This is so unfair. Anger grabbed me and threw me around for awhile. Fortunately, words I had shared with my children reached out to shake wisdom back into me. “Life is not fair but, you can be.” In 2012, the heart failure caused further complications, and the decision to implant a mechanical heart pump was made. The Left Ventricular Assist Device (LVAD) allowed a tremendous improvement in my quality of life. After 9o days of intense cardiac rehab, I could grocery shop without gasping for air. Awesome! 8lbs of batteries were connected to me 24/7 but, I could move to the bathroom without help. Oh yeah! In Sept. 2015, the heart pump clotted off. Testing showed a very rare situation had presented itself. My heart was functioning on its own. The LVAD had clotted because my body/heart had healed. Unfortunately, by Christmas 2015, my weakened heart could no longer support me. New Years Day, 2016, a second LVAD was implanted. In April 2016, this pump clotted, no healing miracle this time. The cardiologist came in to tell me, the medication (TPA) to fix this was very dangerous-the risk of catastrophic stroke was very high (50-70%). And it dissolved the problem-cataclysmic stroke averted. May 4, 2016, the LVAD clots again. I’m given few options. The cardiologist insists, “No clot buster medication again”. The surgeon who implanted the LVAD comes in to tell me, they haven’t had anyone donating hearts for awhile. I consoled him, “I have had my fair share of miracles, if it comes to it and a heart is necessary- the right person will share his with me”. The surgeon looked at me as if I hadn’t understood and repeated, “Gene, you don’t understand, we are not getting any hearts. You must demand the TPA”, I shook his hand and reiterated, “When I truly need a heart, one will be shared with me.” He challenged, “these pumps don’t clear themselves,” and called to argue with the cardiologist about the right procedure to try next. Two days later, this blessed man was discharged to home, the clot had dissolved on its own and the LVAD lasted until I received “The Call on May 6th”. When I arrived home, after my Heart Transplant, I was presented with a birthday cake imprinted, Dad’s New Birthday “May 7th, 2017”.
By WRRFC member Gene Shimandle