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My 1st Heartiversary – An Essay by John Brennan

April is National Donate Life Month, a time to raise awareness about organ donation, encourage organ donor registration, and honor those who have saved lives through the gift of donation. April is also the month during which I will be celebrating my 1st Heartiversary. A Heartiversary recognizes the anniversary of the day that survivors of cardiac surgery received a second chance to live. My 1st Heartiversary falls on April 8, 2024, as one year ago (Holy Saturday), I underwent heart transplant surgery.

Years before my transplant, I dealt with cardiomyopathy and atrial fibrillation, which progressively worsened, leading to invasive surgical procedures. Symptoms included difficulty breathing, bouts of fatigue, and severe muscle and weight loss due to difficulty swallowing. Months before my transplant, I went into advanced cardiac heart failure, resulting in admission into the cardiac ICU. I spent ten weeks in the ICU awaiting a donor match. At the same time, I was on an intra-aortic balloon pump, heart monitors, and IV medications to increase heart function with only a half-hour each day of mild exercise outside of the confines of my room. The isolation was a test of patience and endurance. Routines included right heart catheterizations, daily blood tests, EKGs, echocardiograms, and chest X-rays. A hospital is no place for rest.

My life completely changed after I received the gift of a new heart. Thanks to the excellent doctors, surgeons, and nurses at NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital, a week after my surgery, I was walking around the Cardiac Surgery Step-Down Unit without the assistance of a physical therapist, the aid of a walker or the need for mechanical support devices. Twelve days after I received my heart transplant, I was discharged, just in time to be home to watch the N.Y. Rangers’ colossal playoffs collapse. Today, I no longer experience shortness of breath or fatigue when walking, and I am back to enjoying my favorite hobbies and sports, looking forward to new experiences in life, and being part of important family events. I am also spending some of my free time sharing my experience with other patients who are awaiting a heart transplant, hopefully easing some of their fears and concerns.

I am sharing my story, first and foremost, to honor all donors and donors’ families, notably mine. At the most sorrowful time of their lives, they helped others in need. They are indeed the most selfless people. Secondly, in recognition of my 1st Heartiversary, to help raise awareness for the importance and need for organ donors. According to the United Network for Organ Sharing, 2023 was a record year for all organ transplants in the United States. One donor alone can save up to eight lives. Despite this, there remains a severe shortage of donors, with a new person added to transplant waitlists every 8 minutes and 16 people, on average, dying daily while on waitlists.

Spreading awareness or making a monetary donation to one of the many excellent national or local charities that provides education about the importance of organ donation saves lives. As one suggestion, Donate Life America’s website, has information on organ donor registration and ways to donate to this worthy cause. Thank you for reading my story. I hope it will inspire you to get involved.

– John Brennan