STORY: Jim Gleason

Heart Hugs

Have you ever seen such a friendly environment as when the Transplant Games are in town?
Everyone is filled with smiles and the surprise of recognition as old friends from earlier Games are encountered and such friendships renewed. Such encounters are often accompanied with hugs of love, joy, emotion as recipients and donors come face to face, many for the first time. Many are adopted families of recipients or donors, filling the void of so many communications yet to happen between the real donor and their recipient.

As emotion filled as such hugs are, there is something even stronger in that hug when a heart transplant recipient is giving such a hug. As a heart hugger myself of ten years since that big heart event, I am a student of the physical hug, and both give and receive such joy in those personal encounters. This year at the 2004 Games registration, I found myself supporting the NKF’s transAction Council table, offering support and information to attendees passing through the exhibit area. Working with me were Rachael, a recipient from Team Hawaii, and Erin, an NKF staffer attending her first transplant Games from New York City.

As the afternoon moved on the crowds thickened and many old friends stopped by for exciting and joyful reunions and the beautiful heart hugs that so naturally followed. As I turned to introduce Erin, she politely shook hands and looked hesitant at the exchange. Filled with my own heartfelt enthusiasm, I tried to share with Erin what if felt like to be a transplant recipient greeting old friends who often share the same enthusiasm for life post transplant, especially as it involves encounters with the many donor families now attending these Games. This is not an emotion that easily translates into words. You really have to actively engage in it and since Erin was not going to have a need for a transplant in any near future, how to give her the feelings?

Watching her shake hands, I pushed the envelope and challenged her to give the visitor a big hug. These were very wonderful visitors, each huggers in their own rite, but as Erin found herself being pushed into such new areas, it was apparent that her hug was far too mechanical. She “leaned into” the hug, keeping a very safe distance in the process. All this makes perfect sense for someone from New York City where you are taught to be careful because everyone is “out to get you” or some such danger lies around the next corner.

I found myself playfully introducing this young reluctant hugger with lessons in hugging with many visitors who only too willingly stepped up to share their special hugs – from young and old recipients, from donor family members, and especially from heart recipients who seem to specialize in the famous “Heart Hug” mentioned earlier. Over several hours of “practice” Erin got better and better, slowly giving into the power of the hug emotions from so many different directions. The topper was when a very young heart recipient of seven years age, a stranger to us both, stopped by with her family. Pamela had received her new heart when just 13 weeks old. I asked her to show Erin how WE give heart hugs. Pamela never hesitated for a moment, handing over her bag to her dad and others stuff to her mom as she stepped up and gave Erin the most beautiful hug you have ever seen! Erin could not resist as Pam wrapped her young arms and heart around Erin, pulling her close with the love that only such a young heart transplant recipient can give. I think Erin actually closed her eyes in the embrace, a huge smile lighting up her face (were there some tears in her eyes?), as she finally really FELT all that I had been trying to offer her.

From that point on, you could see Erin was converted and gave herself into the hugs that came through the rest of the day. She had gotten it! Obviously it felt GOOD.

Later that night, I ran into her waiting in conversation outside the hotel. Waling toward her, I raised my arms to offer a hug, Erin smiled and came forward with the real warmth of a heart hug. Boy, wait until some young boyfriend discovers her new found skill.

For all those who offered their own hugs of welcome throughout these Games to so many, thanks! The healing is so amazing to us all. And Erin, nicely done!

Jim Gleason
Veteran of 5 US Transplant Games
with a new hugging heart in 10/19/94

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Last updated on: Friday, 05-Feb-2010 10:05:42 EST