Just Another Transplant Story

by Brian Monahan

I am now 47. My health had been excellent until the summer of '92 when I started getting short of breath. We owned a furniture store and my work involved heavy lifting. I thought I had asthma, so did my doctor. For four months he treated me for asthma. In November, when I began waking up at night unable to breathe, I got a second opinion: heart failure. The next day I went to see a cardiologist, collapsed in his office and was taken to the hospital in an ambulance (a classic close call).

After a week and a half in the hospital and LOTS of drugs I was well enough to go home. After a couple weeks to adjust to the idea of my situation I was referred to the transplant center. My cardiologist told me to tell them my ejection fraction was 14%. At the time it meant nothing to me. When this came up in the conversation they got real serious and I took the hint. The evaluation included just about every medical test there is. Not having any other serious health problems my name was put "on the list." Living 110 miles from the transplant center, I got to wait at home. That was nice.

Over the next 8 months studying was very helpful to me. Section 616.1 of the Dewey Decimal System at the library gave me a lot of useful information . The Yale University Heart Book and another by the Mayo clinic have a lot of good information on all kinds of heart disease in an accessible style. Heart to Heart was good for emotional adjustment and relationship information. This research gave me the feeling I was doing something about my situation.

This is the best piece of advice given to me: maintain as much of your health as possible; exercise within limits, eat right, just take care of yourself. The stronger you are going into the operation the stronger you will be afterward and the quicker your recovery.

Waiting was hard. First, I was terribly afraid of dying. It's not like a close call in an automobile accident, sudden and then over, where you say "Gee, I almost died!"

It's a slow slipping away. Things you could do last month...not any more. You can feel yourself getting weaker. Then, there is the knowledge that the only way you can be cured is a result of someone else's tragedy. That was not a comfortable feeling. We all seem to deal with that in our own way.

Then the call came. It was September of 1993. "Mr. Monahan, we think we have a heart for you." They wanted to know, how soon I could be there? Two hours. Did I understand this may not work out? That there may be some problems? Yes. I went to Tucson, checked into the hospital, and had the operation.

Two days later the drugs wore off and I felt great. Two days after that I was walking around the wing and in the hall. Two days after that started cardiac rehabilitation therapy. This whole thing was a piece of cake. My new heart works great. Ejection fraction: 76%.

Don't let anybody tell you any scary stories. OK, it's like bootcamp. When you are done you are glad you did it and you are better for it. No, you don't want to do it again. It's not a week in Carmel. You must be careful of the chest wound where they operated; no lifting. My wife had to open the door for me at the department store. I didn't like that but I got over it.

Rehabilitation was three times a week. After a while I was working up a sweat. It was a good feeling to be able to do that much. There were a lot of tests, biopsies. They sting, but nothing they do hurts more than stubbing your toe on the bed frame at night. You need it, so you do it and don't worry about it. For two months you have to stay in town for these tests and physical therapy. Get out, see the museums, parks, whatever. Have a good time.

There were about half a dozen transplant patients there at the same time; transplanted a few weeks before or after me. We got to know each other. Everyone is a little different. Some patients had episodes of rejection and needed extra medicine. Some had drug reactions more severe than mine. We all got over it. Now my test results show that I am "healthier than most men my age."

For the past year I have been working as a volunteer at the Coalition on Donation. They promote organ donation through public education; mainly, a media campaign. It is now time to move on and I'm starting a new career. This transplant sure worked for me.