I never imagined on that day in January when I felt lethargic and had a purplish hue to my feet that the emergency room doctor would utter the most terrifying words, “You have congestive heart failure.”

There was no way that could be true. I had always been healthy – non-smoker, moderate alcohol consumption, physical fitness nut, proper diet. But there I was, at age 53, taking my first ambulance ride and it was to a heart hospital. 

Nearly a dozen cardiologists shared their knowledge trying to determine what was going on with my heart. There was no clear-cut determination, but they knew I should have died because “people do not survive” with what they thought I might have had – tachycardia. 

My good health history and healthy lifestyle, according to the doctors, kept me strong enough to live. After days of shifting around medications and dosages, heart meds became my potential lifesavers. It was possible that my heart might be able to repair itself, too. Those were definitely words of encouragement from the cardiologists. I was filled with optimism and hope. 

Just four months later, though, after experiencing reoccurring episodes of lightheadedness and struggling through uncountable urges to pass out, I was outfitted with a heart monitor that would record each episode of lightheadedness, its duration, and give a snapshot of how my heart was performing. 

It was struggling. Before the month ended, I had a pacemaker/defibrillator nestled inside my chest cavity. In simple terms, its job was to wake up my heart in case it decided to stop working.

Yes, my heart was dying. Changes were happening at a rapid pace. It was enlarging, had minimal pump function, and seemed to have lost its strength. Maybe, according to the doctors, a virus had attacked my heart. They said they would never know for sure. 

I exhausted all medical options and was referred from one heart hospital to the organ transplant team of another for evaluation and extensive testing.

Thankfully, I was “an excellent candidate.” I had “the golden ticket” and was placed on the national waitlist for organ transplantation. In just weeks, a match was on its way in flight from another state, aboard a specialized jet, TxJet, a subsidiary of the Indiana Donor Network, the state’s designated organ procurement organization. Upon arrival, I was wheeled into the surgery room for a heart transplant.

I started my fifth year of living with this miracle beating inside of me on February 4. My donor hero is with me every minute of every day. I celebrate her through prayers of gratitude, and through the way I live my life, showing kindness and compassion to others. She has my promise that I will give the best care to the priceless gift she gave me. 

In her honor, I focus to help and educate others by sharing my story and raising awareness to the importance of organ and tissue donation. It’s one of the very few selfless acts that we have anymore. Plus, it can be difficult to understand the impact of organ donation until you experience it yourself. 

The gratitude I have for my donor hero is overwhelming. She gave quality to my life that was on the road to ending, and has impacted me immensely by her selfless end-of-life decision to donate life to others. Being a donor was something she did knowing that she would not receive anything in return.

Her legacy lives on forever through me. Today and every day, I honor her for this gift of life that beats happily inside of me. She is truly an angel. She is with me always.