It started with a twinge in my back.
It was 2006 and I was working in a truck at the time, so I thought I pulled a muscle in my back. The pain was dull but it was just annoying enough that I decided to go to the hospital. Little did I know that the twinge I’d been feeling was actually a heart attack.
That’s how my transplant journey started. Three years and countless tests, doctors and medications later, my cardiologist gave me the news that I would need a new heart—that mine was failing. “We are going to put you on the transplant list,” she said. “It’s only going to get worse.”
Then on July 16, 2010—just a couple weeks after my 56th birthday—I received the news that they found me a match. It was the heart of a 23-year-old U.S. Coast Guard Fireman named Michael Bovill. By checking the organ donor box on his military ID, Michael saved the lives of five people, all of us of different backgrounds and ethnicities. ‘We all match on the inside,’ is what I like to say.
I’m rolling, baby!
I left the hospital nine days after my transplant surgery, and I’m rolling, baby! The breakthroughs they are making for us to live longer lives are incredible. I take two different anti-rejection medications every day, as well as a variety of blood pressure medication and dietary supplements. I live my life just like any other person—without being bed-ridden or hooked up to any machines.
These new medications, including the ones that keep me healthy, are allowing transplant recipients to live 20-25 years longer than they used to. I plan to use every one of my years to sign up as many new organ donors as possible.
It’s so important to me—and it’s the only way I’ll ever be able to honor Michael and his family for the gift of his heart.
More than 120,000 people are on the waiting list for an organ in the United States. Out of that group, 22 people will die each day waiting for a donated organ. But just one donor can save as many as eight lives! If I can close that gap, even just a little bit, I know I will have honored Michael’s legacy and kept the promise I made to myself while I waited in the hospital for a new heart.
As I celebrate my 7th ‘heartiversary,’ I’m proud to say that I’ve signed up over 10,000 new donors and I have no plans of slowing down. And with the help of innovative new medicines, nothing can hold me back.