In 2014, I was living in Austin, Texas. I loved to exercise and lift weights. I enjoyed watching and playing sports. One day I notice my throat was sore so I went to the doctor. I was diagnosed with strep throat and prescribed antibiotics. After I finished my antibiotics, I noticed it was difficult to breathe and perform daily activities. One night I went to the movies with a friend. After the movie was over, I couldn’t walk more than 3 feet without being completely winded. My friend drove me to the emergency room, and I was admitted to the hospital. I was diagnosed with dilatated cardiomyopathy or an “enlarged heart.”
I was taking medication to treat my condition, and I was wearing a defibrillator vest. I started to feel better and decided to go back to work. I contracted the flu and could no longer keep food liquid or medications down. I was in congestive heart failure. After being in the hospital for over a month, I was implanted with a subcutaneous defibrillator. The doctor told my parents and me that my heart would never recover and that I would need a heart transplant. I was prepared to get on the transplant list in Austin, but my insurance denied a transplant at that hospital.
I decided to move back home to Oklahoma to be closer to family because I no longer could take care of myself. I was admitted into Oklahoma City Integris Baptist for a heart transplant workup. I had lost a significant amount of weight, and my other organs were starting to fail. I was in the ICU with a heart catheter and was listed as a 1A on the transplant list. An intra-aortic balloon pump was inserted into my groin to help my heart pump blood to my body. One evening I was talking to my mother and sister when I felt a stabbing sensation in my chest. My balloon pump had punctured through my aorta and caused internal bleeding. I had to undergo an emergency surgery to put a stent in my aorta. After the surgery was over and I awoke, I received the best news. The doctor told me I had a match for a new heart. My heart transplant was performed the next day. The doctor informed my family that the transplant had gone smoothly and that I had received “one beast of a heart!” I instantly felt better. Color had returned to my face. My cheeks and lips were rosy red. My donor brought me back to life!
After being discharged from the hospital, I continued to exercise and get stronger. After a year had passed, my donor family had written a letter to me. The letter described my donor, Teddy Keys Jr. He was an Army Reserve National Guardsman, a phenomenal athlete who had a strong faith in God. The Keys live in the same county I’m from, just 30 minutes away from where my parents live! Today, I am back at work, living in Fort Worth, Texas. My donor family and I keep in touch via social media.
Receiving the gift of life has allowed me the opportunity to travel and spend more time with family and friends. I volunteer with LifeShare of Oklahoma, telling my story and spreading the word about the importance of organ donation. I am almost three years post-transplant and continue to be in good health. Words cannot express how grateful I am to my donor and his family for deciding to donate life. Not a day goes by where I don’t think about Teddy and his family. I proudly wear this scar on my chest to remind me of the struggles I endured, and as a reminder of the second chance, I have been blessed with!