People ask me all the time: What does it feel like? I know immediately what they’re referring to, but feign uncertainty and send a question back: What do you mean?
They say: Having someone else’s heart in your chest.
No different, I say, There are no psychological or spiritual ideas that are different. I’ve not taken on philosophies, gender markers or lifestyle preferences of another, as some may have presumed I would, without any evidentiary basis. The machines confirm what the rest of my body tells me each day as I breathe, move, eat, pray: H2 physically pumps very differently than my original, birth heart. But there is no difference in the way I “feel” on the outside or under my skin.
Many donor heart recipients do go through difficult post-transplant experiences, including survivor guilt, depression and sudden changes in outlook, attitudes and behaviour. Some male recipients wonder if the feminine traits of their donor have been carried over in the transplant. Others question a new aggressive mindset. Yet others seek an escape into the world from the humdrum existence they led through cardiac failure – and which those around them expect to still hold onto.
There is ample evidence of people who, after skirting death for example during heart failure, have lived the rest of their lives dangerously on the edge, as if inviting death to return (although as many fully embrace their new lives and the opportunities held therein).
One must continue to live with the fact that someone’s life had ended and that their moment of death provided an opportunity for one to continue living. Those meditations are always present, never far below the surface of one’s consciousness. And necessary. They contribute to an appreciation of the kind of lifestyle that must be led now in honour of the life that has ended. Please God, ensure that they never go away.
Outside of thoughts for the donor and his or her family, the sheer miraculous nature of how this solution came together and appreciating the rich legacy of research, experimentation, success and failure over many decades which gave me the 216th rebirth on the heart transplant programme at CBMH, and a stringent daily regime, I haven’t over-thought the psycho-spiritual stuff. Perhaps I’m influenced too easily by the hard-nosed doctors who insist “the heart is just a pump”, it’s a very important pump, they say, but it’s just that. Mine is just one response.
Sadly, for many of you, I’m mostly still the same bugger I was before October 11, 2016, when my donor heart was transplanted into me. Of course much has changed, most of it good for the new, whole me and which I’ve taken to with relish, some of it takes some getting used to, like managing the medicines which keep this heart beating strongly.
But the feelings inside my being are no different.
(See Laurence Gonzales’ Surviving Survival: The Art And Science of Resilience.)