From the Bottom of My New Heart

Submitted by: Mike Spindell, guest blogger

For the first time I am writing a guest blog with a blatant message supporting a cause that you might say is near and dear to my heart.  I hope Professor Turley excuses this personal usage of my guest blogging
privileges, as hopefully will my fellow guest bloggers. Here is my pitch. Some regulars here at the Turley blog know that I am a heart transplant recipient. I received my new heart in October 17, 2010, two days after the birth of my third grandchild. I am, needless to say, an extremely lucky man. My nuclear family all had heart issues. My parents both died at the age of 54 from heart attacks (Myocardial Infarctions {MI’s} as they’re known in the trade). It was my mother’s fourth or fifth and came as a result of her third stroke. When my father died, the requisite autopsy found that this was actually his second MI. My older brother has also had a severe stroke and an MI, but thankfully he is doing quite well today at age 75.

The main reason I am alive today, beyond the fact of my heart transplant, is because my wife during the worst stages of my illness, literally saved my life four times. Her love, care-giving, watchfulness and fierceness in ensuring my medical care, pulled me through very difficult times. We married thirty years ago when I was thirty-seven and six months later I suffered a massive MI, literally destroying one of my three main arteries. Unlike me, she had never experienced the severe illness of someone close, so this transition was obviously shattering but she saw me through. I guess you could say that there is a certain resiliency about me because I was to have two more MI’s at five year periods and yet was able to recover from them and work productively. However, seven years ago at age sixty, in the prime of my profession; I developed Congestive Heart Failure (Cardio Myopathy) and was forced to retire.

What I had was a progressively degenerating condition, where my heart was gradually becoming too weak to be able to pump my blood. Yet by losing weight and living healthy I was able to stave off the inevitable until the winter of 2009. My Cardiologist let me have it straight and told me I’d better get on a heart transplant list, or I wouldn’t have much time left. I was first seen at The University of Miami/Jackson Hospital in March of 2010. Two months later I was hospitalized with Ventricular Tachycardia (VTac) after flat-lining in my living room. I recovered after three weeks hospitalization and on June 1st, 2010 I was officially put on the UNOS Heart Transplant List.

UNOS is the organization that deals with all transplants country wide and ensures that the organs are distributed fairly to those in need. However, by August I was dying. I had no strength and I kept losing weight no matter what I did to keep it on. I was scheduled to go into the hospital to get what is known as an LVAD (Left Ventricular Assist Device). Since the left ventricle of my heart was virtually dead, this device replaced its function and kept me alive. Coincidentally, Dick Cheney received the exact same device, the HeartMate II LVAD about two weeks prior to this time. Given my distaste for him, it was yet comforting to know that he had gotten it, because obviously he receives the best medical care.

With the device implant scheduled for early August I was told to sign into the hospital a few days before the scheduled date and surprisingly was told the next day that a heart was available. I was prepped for surgery and for the next fourteen hours my wife and I waited expectantly for the operation, hope, fear, tension and anxiety making us emotionally exhausted. The operation had been scheduled for 8:00 AM, but that time came and went with no word. Finally, at 11:00 AM, we were told that the operation was not to be for technical, legal reasons dealing with the donor. The effect upon us was devastating, but I have to honestly say that feeling the worst of it fell to my wife, my love and my caregiver. You can’t understand unless you’ve experienced it, that being on the verge of death from non-traumatic causes is modulated by a state called “reverie” where your mind slows down. This could be due to lack of oxygen, or some other physical means that is hardwired into us. Given this, the burden of this sudden disappearance of hope fell on my wife and I can’t even begin to imagine what she went through, yet while at the same time being able to look after and minister to me.

The LVAD was implanted a few days later and for the rest of the month I was in the hospital rehabbing and learning to live with this device. With a LVAD there is a power cord in your abdomen that must either be connected to an external powering device, or to a set of heavy batteries. You literally can’t live without external power. Give my extremely physical weak state prior to the operation, rehab was not an easy process. Learning to switch to batteries and back within a two minute window is hard and initially fills one with dread. Nevertheless, my wife and I mastered the process, which included her learning to change my dressings over the abdomen tube regularly to prevent infection. I made it home by September and must admit that as the days passed I began to despair about ever receiving a transplant.

I was approaching age 66 rapidly, utilizing the LVAD was difficult (imagine the process of going to the bathroom in the middle of the night attached to a 10 foot cord in your belly) and  despite my wife’s best efforts, I was feeling uncharacteristically depressed.  Miraculously in mid October we were awakened by a call from The University of Miami/Jackson Transplant Center and told there was a heart available for me. We needed to be in Miami in two hours and the drive itself is one hour at full speed. Since I hadn’t been allowed to drive since my condition had deteriorated in May, my wife had driven there and back too may times to count. We made it and the following day I received my heart transplant, recovery from which is no walk in the park. In fact after I came out of the operation I was in a psychotic state induced by one of the medications used during transplant, combined with morphine for the pain. I couldn’t speak because I was Enturbated and my wife and daughter had to deal with my psychotic belief that the hospital staff was trying to murder me, after they had just saved my life. When I refused pain medication after two days, the psychosis abated and I could begin to let some of the joy of my new life begin to take effect.

I’ve far simplified the experiences I’ve gone through; to really detail it might well take a book. Today, I am healthier than I’ve been in perhaps 20 years. My wife and I have recovered somewhat from the PTSD like state that people normally get going through an experience like this and our lives get progressively more fulfilling than they’ve been for years. My gratitude to my magnificent Heart Surgeon Dr. Si Pham, Chief of the UM/Jackson Heart Transplant Center is boundless. He is perhaps the most unpretentious, yet powerfully charismatic human being that I have ever met. He is quintessentially all that we hope for in a Physician. His 5:00 AM calls to the intensive care nurses for his patients vitals, giving followup instructions based on the results, even when on vacation, indicates his dedication to his patients and his work. I would say categorically that he is perhaps the most impressive human being I have ever met. I feel the gratitude also to the entire staff of the University of Miami/Jackson Transplant Team, that are as good as in any like facility in the nation statistically, but don’t get the equal credit that other more prestigious institutions receive.

The overwhelming bulk of my gratitude must go to the unknown donor and his family, whose strong heart now beats within me. I know nothing of this donor save that he was a 26 year old man, of approximately my height and build. I am working through an agency that will anonymously contact his family to see if they are willing to receive my personal letter of gratitude, now that some time has passed for them to begin to have processed their own heavy grief. That he and they were willing to allow this life saving donation, at a time for them which must have been tragic, is a testament to their humanity. It is to recognize that humanity, coupled with my own blessings, that I am impelled to find some way to pay back for the gift I’ve received. This post is but a beginning. Below there are links that first give a excellent, short presentation of the case for you to designate yourself as a organ donor and following it are links that will allow you to do so.

As someone who has both commented frequently here through the years and is a guest blogger, many of you know who I am. If in any way I have connected with you on any level, even if it was in disagreement, please understand that I would have been dead a year and a half ago without the blessing of this donation. I implore you the to consider putting yourself on the list as a potential organ donor and perhaps save someone’s life. It could well be the ultimate gift of your life.

An excellent video briefly explaining the need for donors:

Other links that can help you get involved in this.

 Submitted by: Mike Spindell, guest blogger

37 thoughts on “From the Bottom of My New Heart”

  1. Mazel tov Mike!

    I am so glad you are doing so well with your donor heart and continued Best Wishes to you, your wife and all your family. Here is “The Heartbeat Drum Song”….

  2. Loved ready your story.. I am the receipent of a liver from a wonderful man named Christoper…Nov 2, 2000 so really understand the feeling of gratitude. God has given us such a wonderful gift of a “new life”… Thanks for sharing with so many.

  3. Mike S.

    You’re a good man with a big heart… (Kudos to both you and Maxine for a story that may, in the final analysis, give life to others. And how lucky you are to have found each other.)

  4. Just to add a note on the importance of discussing the decision to donate with family members more than just once. The experience of facing the imminent and unexpected death of a loved one can have a paralyzing effect. Making sure that your wishes are absolutely clear and well known will increase the liklihood that they will be carried out.

  5. TEUTONIC13,

    I know Josh via facebook and because my wife is in touch with him. He’s a courageous man who has faced much more than me and yet reaches out to help others. That was a good and informative interview you did. Even though I had an LVad I knew nothing about them.

  6. Lynn,

    Shout out to you, I remember when we met. Jay is a fine young man that I like a lot, not the least of which is that he has good taste in friends.

  7. Again I want to thank everyone for their good wishes and their praise, it makes me blush. However, let me share with you up front my reasons for getting so personal and writing what I did. You will notice I introduced the blog with the phrase “Here is my pitch”. I was using my personal story as a way to get people aware of the current need to have people put themselves on the list of potential donors. Last year there was a need for about 100,000 transplants in the US and only 23,000 actually had one. My wife also has expressed gratitude for all the praise she’s received as my steadfast caretaker, but implored me to re-focus on the aim my guest blog, which was to spread awareness of the need for organ donation.

    The first link I provided presents a film presentation, which though short in brevity, is long on facts. It discusses all issues regarding transplantation, donor-ship and the new developments impacting both. As an example, both Puzzling’s thoughts and Bron’s questions are addressed very well. Likewise the new, exciting developments in healing hearts, such as stem cell therapy are also addressed. Organ donation may become a thing of the past in coming years, but right now, it can save many lives.

  8. Mike,Mike must say your name twice,I can remember the days you would say it was taking so much out of you to make a small post to a subject at hand,and feel somehow that we all have taken this journey with you.

    I guess if you ever watch these so called reality shows where people are stranded on an island and have to run a gauntlet of things to get back to wherever,you probably sit there and say to yourself these people must be kidding,and you can say “SURVIVE ” I’ll show you SURVIVAL :=)


  9. Mike I’m very happy that you are alive and still with us here, I usually enjoy your articles and comments. I top my hat to your wife and I’m heartened to know that you appreciate everything she has gone through with you and I congratulate you both on a long marriage.

    My father had a heart attack last April at age 70 and he survived. His doctor gave him a five way by pass. I learned a great deal from the experience and got an appreciation to what modern medicine can do at times. I think we ought to have more health classes taught in our schools to help teach people about diet and exercise and give people a better understanding on how our bodies work. At least back in 1979 we didn’t spend alot of time on things like this.

  10. Mike,

    Thanks for your story. So glad you’ve come out of it ok. I can empathize with your wife but can’t begin to appreciate the stress she has been under. I do hope she has had some serious time where others are taking care of her.

    I appreciate your articles and comments here. They are always well thought out and readily get to the heart of the matter. Thanks for your participation.

  11. Mike…

    You had Maxxine….I was always appreciative when she kept us updated about your progress…I think when the Doctor gives you advice….You better do what Maxxine suggest….You are lucky on all accounts…Mazel Tov

  12. Dear Sir,
    That was in respect, not due to formaliity-
    Thank you for mentioning the post-op psychosis, after 12 hours myself being down due to the mechanical valve misfunctioning, my psychosis attacked me.
    No details necessary, but I survived. My fullest admiration from this newbie here, and similar gratitude that there are women who pull us through, in spite of great pressures and at times no little opposition. .

  13. In addition to the above note, in case you are wondering who I am
    Leah is friends with my son Jay..We met in florida as well very briefly when you picked up Leah at Mizner Pk

  14. Mr. Spindell,
    What an amazing and inspirational story you wrote.
    I have followed your progress with Leah and my thoughts and prayers were always with you and your family. Your wife is truly a blessing to you.
    Be well

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