Part 3: With HEARTfelt Thanks

Part 3 (11/94) of A Human Heart Story, a five-part book about one man's heart transplant, from initial diagnosis through recovery, by Jim Gleason, reborn on Oct. 19th, 1994. Note: taken from the Gleason Gazette family newsletter with editing for general readership.

Written from home (finally!) - November 7, 1994

I often share with people a favorite saying . . .

Waking in the morning I look down and exclaim:

"Hot damn! Above ground another day - this is going to be a great day!"

Let me tell you that has taken on new meaning in the light of God's miracle with this heart transplant - as you can see by the following . . .

"Hitting a 30, with an H-wave, no less!"

I am happy to report that life is "fantastic" as I recover from the heart transplant surgery at home for the next 6 months or so. After almost 6 weeks in the hospital, you have no idea how great it feels to be here with family and to be able to get around beyond the bounds of a 4-wall IV-pole restrained room. Sorry I can't get out to see more friends, but the steroids that prevent the heart from being rejected also make my body vulnerable to attack by anything at all - i.e., liken it to being an AIDS patient - no immune system for the next 3 months. So this literary report will have to do for now. Thanks for the understanding...

Note: While this is not a "typical" day, it certainly gives you a flavor of living with this new heart of mine. Keep in mind that I have often answered your question: "How are you?" with something like: "On a scale of 1 to 10 (where ten is just great...), I'm a . . .!" and it is not unusual to give a number like 12 - i.e., I'm two points off the scale, its going so well that particular day.

The day I'll share is Thursday, Nov. 3rd, and I'm scheduled to spend the morning at the hospital for my first outpatient biopsy experience. This is a process whereby they go in through a hole poked in your neck, putting a catheter down through a vein into the new heart to scrape some microscopic piece of the heart. They then test that sample for any sign of rejection. You are undergoing a surgical procedure, but lie awake for the whole process. This will be done weekly, gradually the schedule moves to bi-weekly, monthly, etc. but never ends since the heart is always subject to rejection by the host body. If there are signs of white cells attacking the heart (something that is expected) they adjust the steroids and control it - no big deal (easy for them to say!). Reaction to the steroids is the big open question, and everyone reacts differently. Since we are due for the biopsy at 7:30am and travel to the hospital involves using the infamous "Surekill" expressway which typically runs slow, if not stopped completely, we are up very early (5:30am) and plan to leave the house at 6:30 sharp with son Mike as the chauffeur (dropping us off and picking us back up at 1:00pm - hopefully we will be through by that time and he will not get tied up in the noontime "Surekill" traffic - a pretty "iffy" pickup to be sure).

So we do get out as planned at 6:30, me dressed in all new clothes (since loosing almost 70 lbs in the hospital stays over the past year, my old size 46 stuff doesn't fit - talk about feelin' fine!) and breeze through light traffic under a beautiful sunrise, enjoying CD music in Mike's limo (his new '95 MAXIMA!!), arriving exactly on schedule to be sent up to the biopsy at 7:30! Feeling terrific health wise and fully enjoying the miracle of this new day, I am already at a 12 (i.e., off the scale) by this time of the day. Imagine this scene: since all the heart transplant people are there at the same time, you get the support of these many people living for years with their transplanted hearts (the failures don't come, they're in the cemetery - so only positive reinforcement here) - quite an uplift, I assure you for us new guys (i.e., known as the "3-heart Beats" - BEATS: Bodies Eagerly Awaiting Transplant Surgery" - who got their hearts all in the same week after waiting together those many weeks). Then there is the hospital staff constantly passing us since we are awaiting the biopsy on the same floor we had been on all that time - they are so spirited in their praise: "Wow! You look great! - and only 2 weeks since the transplant!!" Who needs medicine with all this mutual love-in going on around you?

By the time I go into surgery for that biopsy, I'm floating somewhere about a 15! and that's about as high as I have ever been over the years. Well, this biopsy team of nurses and doctor are just full of it, introducing themselves brightly amid friendly smiles and laughter - i.e., the doctor's name is Dr. Doueny "but you can call me Doogie, everyone does!" So with Dr. Doogie (ala TV teen star doctor) in the lead and his merry band of nurses gently leading you through ever step of what turns out to be a very painless procedure (this time at least...), the only decision is what music to play in the background. I ask who gets to decide since I just read an article about that (in which the doctor seems to have the final say...) and the response is "Jim, you do - you can even bring in your own if you like. What do you like?" I respond "New Age" and they bubble that they have just got a new CD with a beautiful Celtic singer I might enjoy. What a way to go under the knife. The new experience goes perfectly and I tell them so (naturally...), giving them a perfect score (they want me to come around more often) as I am now soaring up to a new high of 20!!! - sharing that with them, of course. Talk about "Wow!'s"

Now all that is left is to have a quiet breakfast with mom in the cafeteria until the EKG lab is open at 10. Food tastes great, but I don't up my score for this, staying at 20. The EKG is on time, taken with smiles, and by 10:05 I'm off for my meeting with the transplant team of doctors and nurses, part of the twice a week "clinic" process. Another love-in as I describe the miracle I'm living, the feeling of being "re-born," and having no side effects to the meds (so far) (Note: over 44 pills a day! - they go down in 3 gulps twice a day - "piece of cake!"). Still holding onto the that 20 as I bubble about it to the support team who obviously are enjoying the success of their work. Not everyone is so fortunate I notice, but attitude sure does play an important role in this process, and you know all about my attitude, even under normal circumstances, you can imagine it now (no you can't, really...).

I'm running a little late for the 11:45 echo-cardiogram by this time, but we have a problem with the fact that our monthly budget didn't take into account the $250 we had to pay on Monday's clinic visit and we are hard pressed to guess what this will run by month's end with these additional tests and 2 visits per week. Discussing it with the transplant team nurse, we find this to have been a mistake. By coding the billing sheet differently, not only will they bill the insurance directly, but they accept the 80% paid by Blue Cross as payment in full - talk about great news - now what would you move that score of 20 up to? I move it to 22!! Deciding to save a long trek backtracking to the cashier's office and go there directly (only 1 floor down), choosing to be even later to the echo. Damn, there are several people in line before me! But they all step aside saying they are being taken care of - I'm next and with a quick smile and signing of the papers, I'm off in only 30 seconds (my usual positive exaggeration, of course - forgive me please).

Traveling on a cloud of 22, I cross the bridge to the doctor's building for the 8 story elevator ride (always a local) only to run into an old friend who retired as the nurse at Unisys many years ago. "Hi Jim! How are you?" is responded to with the shortest good news story I can tell to such a surprise meeting of this dear old friend I haven't seen in years. She looks healthy in her retirement and I soar to an even higher 25 as mom and I head for that elevator that expresses us non-stop to that 8th floor (1st express ever, honest!). Apologizing to the receptionist, she responds with a gracious: "Oh you're not late, Mr. Gleason. Please have a seat and someone with be with you shortly." How often have you heard that in the medical offices (i.e., check's in the mail, right?)?

Before I can even get my coat off (no less sit down - I have this novel I haven't been able to open all morning to occupy such lost wait time...), out comes my beautiful friend the echo technician who invites me into the lab for immediate service. Now let me give you a description of this echo cardiogram procedure in case it is unknown to you. Lovely lady asks you to bare to the waist and lay on your side so she can lean over you and rub lubricating jelly over your chest for 20 minutes or so - a tough one , huh? I call it pure pleasure, engaging her in playful conversation over this situation. The heart x-ray is displayed in animated living color for you to watch while she captures it on video tape for later analysis by the doctor who writes up some report that eventually your doctor feeds back to you as: "Oh, your echo came back fine." So much for detail. Now remember I came into this at a... 25 was it? Another white suit appears in the dimly lit room and is introduced as a Dr. Dixinson. She introduces herself as the doctor who has been reading all my echoes to date and she is very glad to be able to put my face to the graphs finally. She doesn't leave, instead looks over our shoulders at the on-going video as my heart does its thing. "What a great E-wave!" and "Look at that A-wave - such rich oxidation!!" followed by the following: "Do you realize, Jim, this is a very young heart you now have. Probably 21 years old." "Oh look, you can see the sutures on the aorta. That seam is perfect. The surgeon did a great job there." Now where do you think I am on that scale - or rather off that scale - rising above the 25 for sure, right. Then she exclaims "Wow! look, you have an H-wave!!" Now just what is that, I ask (not really knowing what the E- and A-waves were in the first place...). She explains all three in graphic detail supported by the example of my beating heart on the full-color monitor. Seems not many hearts have this very healthy "extra blip" that results from the full draining of the ventricular-something-or-other - but my heart is very special.

I have got to get out of here - not sure if my new high of a 30+ will blow out this heart or what!!! Talk about your morning! Fantastic news, don't you agree? I'm 51 years young with a 21 year old heart - that has an "H-wave!!!" With tears of gratitude and prayers of thanksgiving, I head out to share this all with my waiting mother who is bearing up very well under the daily rantings of what she calls this "re-born again Christian." Even she can't argue with the logic of the score of a 30 - not that she wants to, mind you.

All we have left to do is meet up with Mike on that 1:00 "iffy" rendezvous (remember that "Surekill" traffic variable...) in time and space (the valet stop off area of the hotel - i.e., no place to park if we don't meet on time). Mom and I step outside to wait at 12:50. Mike cruises up for his first pass after only 30 seconds (no exaggeration this time...). No score added for this bonus.

The only thing missing is the results of the biopsy that are not available until late the following day - but I'll include them here anyway - a perfect "No Rejection!" - the second in as many weeks. Since then we have had yet a third perfect score last week, so all goes well as of this writing.

So, can you argue with that logic? You ask me that Thursday afternoon: "How are you, Jim? You sound great!" and I go off the deep end attempting to convince you that my response of a 30 is real and justified because even I am not fully believing it. Thanks for your patience in putting up with the new me (like the Jim you knew of old pre-cardiomyopathy days). This new miracle of life is fantastic!

Thanks again for all your prayers, love and support.

- Jim

Ed. note: While awaiting for a donor heart, the transplant team noted an irregularity in my heart beats where it would literally STOP every once in a while through the night. Now this is not good! It was decided to install a pacemaker to control that rhythm - a fairly simple operation whereby they plug a little chip (i.e., computer) into your chest attached to some wires into the heart that monitor the beating and "take over" whenever the heart doesn't do "it thing" naturally. The following is a printout of my heart as the pacemaker senses such an irregularity and steps in to artificially keep it beating until the heart comes "back on line" to beat its own rhythm again (usually in a couple of minutes... but we couldn't take a chance that I might not still be there when a heart became available) - pretty neat, huh? It really works.

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