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PERSONAL STORIES

A monthly story of personal strength and courage. This month's story:

A Change of Heart


By David Hollar

On Easter Sunday, March 31, 1991, I had a change of heart - literally! On that date I was the joyful recipient of a heart transplant. A procedure that had become almost routine to the medical profession was an answer to prayer to me in the form of a 20th century miracle.

My two-year struggle with heart disease at the age of 44 began on March 11, 1989. Early that morning I suffered a major heart attack.

I was not in the high-risk category. I never smoked used non-prescription drugs and I jogged two miles three times a week. Later, I asked Dr. Burke, my internist, why it had happened. He said, "it should not have happened." He could not explain the event.

Recovery from the heart attack was both a physical, emotional and spiritual journey. I was terribly angry with God. I asked Him: "Why did you allow this to happen - I have done everything I was suppose to do." Little did I know, but my difficulties and trials with my heart had only begun.

I returned to work in June 1989. On July 12 My friend, Dewey Lyall, and I were going to lunch together. He needed to make a stop on the way to pay a bill so I went ahead and he would join me at the restaurant. The instant I walked into the restaurant I felt faint, weak, and dizzy. I sat down at the first table I saw. The next thing I knew was that I was lying on my side on the chair beside me. Dewey came in about then and an ambulance was called.

On the way to the hospital, I heard the medic declare that He could not find a pulse. In the emergency room I heard a nurse twice say: "No pulse, no pressure." I remember being told, also, that I was not going to die.

My next memory was being in the Coronary Care Unit (CCU) on a ventilator. My wife, Sylvia and son, Mike were with me. My arms were tied to the bed rain so I would not pull the tube out of my throat. The next day, Dr. Clark, came to visit me on rounds. He was the cardiologists who took care of me in the emergency room. I said to him; "I guess this was serious?" He replied: "You were close." I asked him if he had said that I was not going to die. He replied that he had not and that no one else in the room had said that.

I pondered that reply for a couple days and realized that no human voice told me that. In retrospect, it was the most comforting and loving voice I had ever heard. I had no reservations or doubts about its claim. I believe that voice was from God.

I learned from Lisa, my nurse, that I had an attack of Ventricular Tachycardia (VT) or "Sudden Death". VT occurs because of a failure of the electrical system in the heart. It is a rapid fire, ineffectual beating of the heart that often leads in death.

After several tests of my hearts condition, my cardiologist recommended to me the use of an Automatic Implantable Cardioverter Defibrullator (AICD) system to control my heart rhythm problem. An AICD consists of a pulse generator implanted in my abdomen with lead wires to the heart. It works in reverse to the operation of a pacemaker. The AICD senses when the heart beats too fast. If this occurs the AICD delivers an electric shock directly to the surface of my heart halting the arrhythmia. Mine was implanted in July, 1989.

In the next 20 months the AICD returned my rebellious heart to a normal rhythm many times. It discharged several times unnecessarily. This was when I had short urns of VT, which would have corrected itself, but the AICD did not know the difference.

 

The Waiting Game

By the fall of 1990 my heart had weaken to the point of being in heart failure. I would become short of breath and fatigued when walking up stairs, taking a shower, or performing the simplest of chores. During the previous February surgery was performed to help remedy the frequent arrhythmias. But it was only partially successful. By this time Doctors had begun talking to Sylvia about a transplant for me. I recall one day when I was still hospitalized walking the hall with Sylvia when she brought up the subject of a transplant. I was stunned that she would make such a suggestion. My response was immediate and strong - No heart transplant for me. I did not need one.

During the next few weeks, Sylvia and I struggled to deal with the issue. By mid-October we had come to the conclusion that I should have the transplant. In mid-November I was accepted as a candidate for a heart transplant at the George Washington University Medical Center. I was placed on their waiting list. I was told that it would be about a yearlong wait to the transplant.

The following months were tense. There was always the possibility that a heart would become available. Sylvia and I had to be ready all the time. Thanksgiving came and passed. Christmas and New Year's came and went - and not heart. In early January, 1991 my heart failure became so severe that I had to be hospitalized.

Sylvia and I became friends with Gene and Barbara Hozaphel. Gene was just a few rooms down the hall from mine and he too was waiting for a transplant. We would visit each other when our strength allowed it.

Transplant

On Saturday night, March 30, 1991, I learned that a donor heart had become available. The donor was a 21-year-old man who was the victim of a traffic accident. It was about 11:00 p.m. when the transplant coordinator told me that "…we have a heart for you." I immediately called Sylvia and Mike. Mike was home from college on Easter break. Sylvia, Mike and Sylvia's parents were at the hospital around 1:00 a.m. on Easter Sunday. The process began for the life-saving operation.

On Sunday morning I was taken to the operating room. My surgeon would be Dr. Benjamin Aaron. He was the surgeon who operated on President Reagan when he was shot. I told Dr. Aaron to be sure to take out the AICD. The operation began later that morning and was completed by early evening.

Recovery from the operation was difficult. For the first week I was in isolation to protect me from infection. I was in the "Reagan Room" - the room in which President Reagan recovered since it could easily be guarded by the secret service. When Sylvia and Mike visited, they had to wear gowns, shoe and hair coverings, and masks. I developed a serious bout of pneumonia and was extremely week.

Upon being released from isolation I went to a regular room. Visitors still needed to wear hospital garb to protect me from infection. I had the use of an exercise bike in the room and was encouraged to use it. Gradually, I became stronger and on May 8 I was discharged and returned home. It was a momentous occasion.

The Road Back

A few days after returning home Sylvia and I were in our yard when our neighbor, Mack McKinney came over to me. He greeted us and I replied: "You are looking at a miracle here you know." He replied: "Yes, I know." Indeed that was the summation of my story.

The transplant has made a life saving difference in my life and that of my family and friends. I am now able to lift my grandson to eye level and see the sparkle in his eyes. I can mow the lawn, carry firewood, plant a shrub, and go to work. When Sylvia talks me into it, I can even help vacuum the house and take out the trash. The transplant was the final defense for a heart at war with itself. It was a war that without a transplant I would have lost.

My survival was not luck; it was not an accident. It was a miraculous gift from God. Parallels between the gift of my donor and his family and that of Christ's gift of eternal life are compelling. My heart was given unconditionally, with no strings attached, and without compensation. It was free, yet came at a high price. It required that a great loss be inflicted on the donor.

Prior to the transplant, I claimed Ezekiel 36:26 as MY verse:

"Moreover, I will give you a new heart and put a new heart within you; and I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh."

I received my new heart on Easter Sunday, 1991. It has changed everything. I have written a book, Mr. NewHeart - Heart Attack to Transplant and Beyond, which describes my transplant experience. Mr. NewHeart may be purchased at www.lulu.com/dshollar or toll free 877-289-2665.

CLICK HERE TO: Read a review of the book by a fellow transplant recipient.



PREVIOUS STORIES

SECOND CHANCES: Receiving the Gift of Life -Read about R. Lueders inspirational new book on how faith helped him through his illness and recovery.

A Story Of Faith, Love, And Inspiration -The Story of Jeff Piper

SKEETER PAYNE HAS HEART -The Story of Skeeter Payne

A SECOND CHANCE AT LIFE -The Story of Charles Eaton

THE PERSONAL LIFE OF A NURSE -The Story of Margaret Schnieder

VISITED BY ANGELS -The Story of Our Chaplain Bro. Vernon Hornsby

BEATING THE ODDS AGAIN AND AGAIN -The Story of Debbie Tunnacliffe

MAKING THE MOST OF 2ND CHANCE AT LIFE -The story of Ron McKenney

LIFE IS NEW AND LIFE IS GOOD -The story of Roy Laney

A GIFT FROM THE HEART -The story of Jack Stranko

A SECOND CHANCE OF LIFE FOR A NURSE -The Story of Terrie J. Carr






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