January 21, 2013 - I was working a 4:00 PM to 11:45 PM shift. It was a quiet night, it was a Monday, and snow had been predicted. That tends to keep people in their homes once they have bought the grocery stores out of milk and bread. Right around 8, my phone rang and caller ID showed my home number. Well, it was either school had been cancelled for the following day or we needed milk and bread.
To my surprise, it was my wife telling me that Mass. General had called and wanted her there as soon as possible. They had potential heart donor and with snow on the way the transplant team wanted her there. We laughed on the phone - yeah, right, that's what they said the last five times they called. I went to my supervisor and got permission to leave. He wished us luck and I told him that I would be at roll call at 4 the following afternoon.
There was a little emotion at home, but we told the kids that we would probably be home later in the evening, or by morning at the latest. Off we went with our bag in tow; Kindle, charger, glasses, all the essentials. We knew the routine by heart. Ellison 8, the Cardiac Surgical Step Down Unit, it was like checking into a hotel. Get into a johnnie, hop into bed and have the heart monitor attached. We chuckled every time a new person entered the room, "this is the one who sends us home." It always seemed that it was a new face that sent us home, not someone we had already spoke to. This went on for a few hours, but we were still there. The surgeon, Dr. Garcia, came into talk to us and told us that if this was happening, it wouldn't happen until late in the morning on Tuesday. More doctors and nurses came in and out, prepping Tracie for the surgery. Finally, about 1:00 AM, I decided to go home so she could sleep and I would be at home when the kids got up for school.
I didn't sleep, I just neatened up the house a little and watched some TV. When the kids awoke, I told them that we just didn't know what was up. I decided to let the older ones stay home and sent the little one to Kindergarten for the day. My mom came over and helped out. I was back at MGH shortly after 6.
Tracie was awake. Dr. Garcia came in again, and during the conversation he told he had done about 280 transplant surgeries. OK then, you can do my wife's! More people came in, and each time we joked about going home. Then, people we knew from previous visits began to come in and offer congratulations and good luck with the impending transplant. "Uh-oh, this looks real!" About 11 one last person came in, I told Tracie, this is it, he's sending us home. Wait a minute, he has a stretcher - I don't think we're going home, hon!.They loaded her onto the stretcher and off to the Operating Room. I was able to stay with her right up to the OR, then I had to leave.
I called home and gave the update, and while the kids were somewhat scared, they were thrilled! I had to make a few phone calls, and send some texts to let family and friends know. Naturally I posted Tracie's picture on Facebook and let my friends know what was going on. Once more, a tremendous outpouring of love and support from everyone. Now....wait 'til it's over.
Easier said than done. About 1:30 they told me she was in surgery, and that meant that the donor heart had been removed and inspected, and was in transit to MGH, from where I don't know. It also meant that surgeons at MGH would now begin working to remove Tracie's LVAD, IED, and eventually her damaged heart.
About 5 in the evening I was in the lobby, pacing, when I saw someone run through with an igloo cooler. I chuckled a little, wondering if he was late for work or if he was running to the OR with Tracie's heart. I later found out that if it was the heart, there would have been two doctors taking it to the OR. It's amazing how slowly time can move at times like this. Seconds become hours, hours seem like days; time just doesn't move. I took a walk, thinking I was gone for a few hours, but it turned out to be forty-five minutes. I ate a few times, I drank so much coffee that I swear I could feel sound in my teeth. So when my friend Frank (a police officer) sent me a text asking if I wanted a coffee, I shakily and wisely said "no, thanks."
Finally about 9:00pm I was sent to the waiting room at the Cardiac Surgical ICU and a few minutes later Dr. Garcia came out and told me that everything went well and that Tracie was doing just fine. Great! Now I can breathe again! I called home and told the kids. I got to see her for a few minutes, but the nurses were busy with her so I went home. The next morning she was extubated, and before long she was sitting up. She was home in two weeks, and continues to recover at a remarkable pace.
For three years we lived this. Heart attacks, heart failures, and LVAD's. It was a difficult three years for Tracie and the kids. Between me, Eric, Tommy and Jessica, we had to call 911 nine times to have Boston EMS come to the house for Tracie. Jessica was 11 when she made her call. My heart broke for her when she called me at work to tell me.
Watching Tracie during this time was incredible. Her will to survive, and to live, were amazing. In the beginning, despite some severe restrictions, she learned to do what it took to live. There was no arguing or fighting, she just did it. When she had the LVAD implanted, she learned to live with that. It wasn't easy. The constant risk of infection, carrying the controller and batteries all the time, taking the back-up bag everywhere we went. Yet she did it. I don't remember hearing her ever complain. Not once. Following the transplant surgery, she continued her fight; this time to get home. The days of LVAD and Heart Failures are now in the past.
We move on to this new chapter in our lives, never forgetting what it took to get here. So much love and support from family, friends, and strangers. Tracie's cardiologist, Dr. Moore, is one of the most upbeat and inspirational people I have ever met. As discouraging as things could get, Dr. Moore convinced us that we would make it to transplant. We believed her. Dr. Baker performed miraculous work during the LVAD surgery. He faced uncertain odds, yet he was able to keep Tracie alive. Dr. Garcia, a veteran transplant surgeon, who was able to keep us calm before and after the surgery with his relaxed personality.
And one more person, the one who made it all happen, and one we think of daily, our donor. Their selfless actions, the generosity of their family as they prepared for the death of a loved one, thought of saving others through their loss. In their grief and loss, they gave us life. I wrote a little note the evening of the surgery, and I will close with that:
to a very special person: we will never meet, we will never know you. What we do know is that you have given us
a gift like no other. We cannot repay you, we can only pay it forward. Please know that your gift will not be
wasted, it will be put to good use from this day on.
To your family, the pain of losing you must be incredible. I hope that in some way they are comforted knowing that
you live on in my beautiful wife, and that your gift will keep our family together for years to come. We will
remember you daily, and we will be eternally grateful for the gift you have given us. While it seem woefully
inadequate to say, it must be said, thank you.