Tuesday I drove to Santa Clara to attend the annual Heart Transplant Holiday Party. The food was wonderful and not necessarily heart healthy. (There were no salt shakers to be found) Mostly, it was great to visit with fellow heart recipients. You cannot get a new heart and not become a new person. We all have common themes, we are all grateful, we don't worry as much about trivial daily inconveniences, we are all excited to return to our passions, or at least find new ones to replace the ones we can't do.
And then Dr Weisshaar began the traditional roll-call. The old guys stood first; a transplant done 22 years ago, 20, 15 etc... These guys looked great. We kids all looked am them with childlike hope. "Maybe I'll be at the party in 20 years." Each year had its graduates, some only had one. My year, 2008, was well represented. But 2009 was impressive; 22 heart transplants. Remember,this is just from one Kaiser clinic that serves only Kaiser patient in Northern California. It was not that there was more people with heart disease this year, there were just fewer people dying from it. This is due to the tireless efforts of our transplant cardiology team, the surgeons at Stanford and the Northern California Transplant Network with their amazing ability to match families in that most difficult moment with well trained teams and earnestly waiting patients.
Sir Isaac Newton gave us the first law of thermodynamics which teaches that every action has an equal and opposite reaction; a man's life is given up and life is given to a new man. One must die so that one can live. A hard reality to digest when first considered for a transplant, but then the social worker, Janet reminds us that death happens every day. Our wishing for a heart does not cause it. Then you accept it and prepare yourself. One day the call comes and as the heart flies in your dream fly with you on you last trip with your old heart. Most of your heart is then removed and the new one is sown to what is left of the back wall of your right and left atria. Your aorta is sown to his aortic root; pulmonary vessels accept and return oxygenated blood to the alien organ and, on its own, it begins the first beat of hundreds, thousands, millions. My metronome is set at andante and my dynamics forte.
We honored those who had passed in the last year and welcomed the families of a few of the donors who had so courageously given, in the words of Lincoln, "The last full measure of devotion." In the silence that followed we all recommitted to live our lives to honor their legacy.
It was a joyous reunion,
The we had a raffle fundraiser, generally I never win, but today I won two. First a bath spa set in a beautiful basket. That was for Barbie. I was just about to leave when I stopped to great Yolonda and her family. She is like me; AL Primary Amyloidodis with a heart transplant, waiting for a stem-cell transplant. She is the third. And then I heard my name from the front. 'Kevin, come get your prize' As I walked forward I noticed Dr Weisshaar hold a complete Wii Console with sports bundle. I was in shock. I took the mike and blurted out something like "With this I can help my urology patients NOT to Wii, Wii, Wii all the way home.
In the end, we all looked at each other and were amazed that we all looked so healthy; life goes on and on and on and we build our homes in our new normal.