When I was young, I must have assumed my body was indestructible. Otherwise, I would have been nicer to it. For many years I smoked far too much. I drank more scotch and sodas than I needed. I spent too much time in the sun, too. In short, I dared my body to get its revenge and offered plenty of options. It picked my heart!
Carolyn and I have land near the town of Tehachapi. It's a beautiful spot ... Mike, Chris and Joanna have all been there. It was on that land that my heart trouble announced itself. We were camping there one June weekend in 1989 and I had a terrible time breathing. I didn't see a doctor. I thought the problem would go away but it didn't. On Father's Day, a dear friend of ours suggested I had better go the hospital and do it right away. Carolyn drove me to the emergency room. Within an hour, I was in a room hooked up to medicine and oxygen. I needed a heart bypass operation. Two days later, a surgeon installed 5 new blood vessels for my heart.
The symptoms went away for a long time after surgery ... but my heart had been damaged badly. I had a condition called "congestive heart failure."
In the hospital, a doctor named Antony Ernest became my cardiologist. It was sheer luck that I got such a fine doctor. As the years passed, Dr. Ernest kept track of my heart. It was getting worse. Finally, he told us that without a new heart --- a heart transplant --- I would live only five more years. Another doctor was consulted for a second opinion. His verdict --- I had only three years left. That doctor, a close friend of Dr. Ernest, was on the staff of Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles. He was one of the doctors who screened new heart transplant candidates. After more tests, Cedars put me on their transplant waiting list.
Early in the year 2000, Carolyn drove me to Cedars. It was time to wait in the hospital for a new heart. Ten weeks later, on Easter Sunday, a young man somewhere in Southern California died in a car wreck. His heart now beats inside me.
The surgery began late on Easter Sunday and lasted until about 4:25 the next morning, Carolyn waited all by herself in an empty lobby on the 6th floor of Cedars-Sinai ... waiting for news from the operating room. Those were long, lonely hours for her. And they capped several anxious weeks, wondering if a suitable donor heart will ever turn up.
Finally, my dear surgeon, Dr. Kathy Magliato, came through the door to tell Carolyn that everything went smoothly ... the heart was a good one ... and I was going to be fine.
I am 72 years old ... my heart is 22. I don't smoke at all, of course, and my scotch-and-sodas are few and far between. The heart is doing fine. Like all transplant patients I take a bunch of pills and see the doctor frequently. But that Easter Sunday evening five years ago, I got a new lease on life.
Carolyn has had her share of medical problems, too. Her heart was very weak but thanks to some medicine, it has regained much of its strength. She also had a recent cancer scare ... a large tumor was found and removed. It turned out to be non-cancerous.
As I said, "We aren't spring chickens anymore."