By David Holt
Our communities have been working through unprecedented challenges with the spread of COVID-19. Healthcare professionals are working to treat those who have been infected and we are all doing our part to keep millions safe and healthy. Amidst the uncertainty, April brings National Donate Life Month – an opportunity to celebrate the lifesaving power of organ, eye and tissue donation.
The scariest day of my life happened in March 2008 when I woke up one morning and couldn’t breathe. My mind raced and I began to panic. Thankfully my wife of 30 years was by my side and rushed me to the hospital. I was a 61-year-old father and retired special education teacher and I knew I still had a lot of life left in me. I was not prepared for this to be the end of my story.
When we arrived at the emergency room, the doctors told me I was having a major heart attack. What was more surprising was the fact that, unbeknownst to me, I had had a series of smaller undetected heart attacks prior to this one.
It soon became clear that I was dying.
I was immediately airlifted from my local hospital to the large trauma center at Westchester Medical Center. Doctors and nurses crowded around me and worked to save my life. My heart was in such bad shape that I was put on a mechanical tandem heart and given a mere 8% chance of surviving. The doctors said I needed a very high-risk surgery. If I survived the surgery — and the odds were not in my favor — I would be placed on the waiting list for a new heart, which could take months or years to find.
It was looking more and more like the end, so my daughter Eden and her boyfriend, expecting the worst, got married at my bedside in the ICU. It meant so much to me that my beloved daughter sacrificed a big wedding so that I could be present for this important moment. It also drove home how real the entire situation was.
Somehow, I made it through the surgery and defied those low survival odds. I was immediately placed on the waiting list for a heart transplant and prepared for a long wait at the hospital. That’s when my luck began to change. While the average New Yorker waits three to five years to receive a lifesaving transplant, I only waited 13 days. It was a miracle made possible by a selfless organ donor from Long Island. I thank him every single day for saving my life.
On April 9, 2008, I was back in the operating room, but this time everyone was a bit more positive about my prognosis. The transplant surgery went well and two weeks later I was discharged. In the nearly 12 years since my transplant I have not taken a single day for granted.
My organ donor gave me the chance to see and do incredible things. I was able to dance with both of my daughters at their wedding receptions — Eden had a perfect second wedding far from heart monitors and hospital gurneys. And because of my donor I was able to celebrate my 40th wedding anniversary last year and I got to meet my four grandchildren. I can’t put into words how thankful I am for this incredible gift.
I’m trying to use my second chance at life to give back. I tell my story in local high school health classes and encourage young people to register as organ donors, and I spend a lot of time visiting some of the 10,000 New Yorkers who are currently waiting for a lifesaving organ transplant. I want their stories to have a happy ending like mine, but the sad fact is that many on the organ transplant waiting list won’t make it because not enough people are registered as organ donors.
You can help change that by registering to be a lifesaving organ donor. Sign up to be a hero and save someone like me.