As a heart transplant recipient, I know that every day I am alive is a gift. When I got the call that a heart was available I was in disbelief and was not thinking clearly.
My emotions were definitely mixed because I did not think I was ready for the surgery. You have to be physically and mentally sound in order to have a transplant because it is a very traumatic surgery.
I call my heart a gift because it's something that you have to wait a long time for, in some cases years.
How I felt receiving a heart
Many heart transplant recipients feel guilty when they get a heart transplant because they are inadvertently getting the heart from someone who has died. When we had my psychological evaluation for the heart transplant, the psychologist mentioned this. She told me that it was something that I would possibly struggle with. I could understand why some people struggle with guilt when you are living and the other person is not.
I do not think of it that way, while I do feel sorry for the family whose loved one passed. People become organ donors for a reason, because they want to help people in need. As many of you already know there are 100,000 people in the United States waiting for an organ transplant according to the Donate Life America website.1
When I received my gift I did not know anything about the donor, whether it was a male or female, or how old they were. Actually because of HIPPA laws the doctors were not allowed to give me that information, but that did not stop me from fantasizing about who they were as a person. I often wondered about whether they were an active person, whether or not they were a vegetarian, what their favorite food was, and if I was doing activities that they used to do. All these kinds of questions run through my mind on a daily basis.
Writing a letter to my heart donor
The doctors had explained to me that I would get a chance to write my donor's family a letter. It took me a month to gather the words for this letter which is crazy because writing comes easy to me, but I wanted to make sure the words were right. I wanted to make sure I embodied how grateful I was and empathetic to what the family was going through in losing a loved one.
The doctors also explained that the donor's family may or may not respond to the letter, which was understandable to me. I am not too sure that I would want to read a letter from my loved ones’ organ recipient.
When I finally sent the letter to the intermediary of the Living Legacy Foundation of Maryland the donor's family, I had hoped that they would respond to my letter. A week went by, then 1 month, and then years went by and I just stopped waiting. The percentage of families that respond to organ recipients is really low, but I really thought they would respond.
My heart donor gave me a gift in my heart failure journey
The heart is a gift to me and because of this, it is vital to me to maintain the heart. To me, I think of it as my duty to keep the heart safe. That's why I take every vaccine I am supposed to take, I mask when I am indoors, and I am always protecting the heart at all costs because the heart was given to me as a gift. Someone died in order for me to get the heart.
I still wonder about my donor, what they were like and their family is still in my prayers. I just wanted them to know how my life has changed because of their loved one and how much I am able to do now. Where I am able to travel to now, and how happy my family is to have me back.
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