Readers of this blog may have seen the other letters mentioned below that I exchanged with the parents of the donor of my heart [if not see the posts "About That Heart Transplant" and "My Heart Belonged to Andrew"]. Here is the latest installment:
March 10, 2010
Dear Barbara and Byron:
I was so pleased to receive your wonderful letter about Andrew. I gather that my letter, written before yours, has also reached your hands, so they in effect crossed in the mails.
First of all, your letter was very hard to read, being both well written and an evocative recreation of your son Andrew. I am not someone who cries easily, but I didn’t make it through that letter without being a weepy mess. Since then I cannot look at Andrew’s photo (what a handsome and vibrant young man!) without a tremendous conflict of emotions: sadness at his early death, tremendous thanks to all three of you, and a sense of wonder that his heart is beating inside me as I type this. It was one thing to say to myself I had a heart from anonymous donor, and quite another to have a name and face to go with the very strong pulse I feel inside me. I didn’t sleep that night, and, finally, so I would stop looking at them, I put the letter and photo up in an album, bringing it out only to share with family and friends, all of whom had trouble staying dry-eyed.
Knowing that the heart belonged to Andrew has changed things for me in a number of ways. Before your letter I was working very hard at making sure my body did not reject the new heart (and it has not). My doctor told me that some people are afraid of their new hearts, and it occurred to me that such an attitude would lead to a bad mind set and possibly (due to the mind/body connection) rejection. So I developed a mantra: “It was once somebody else’s heart, but it’s my heart now!” I said this a couple of times each day. But now I know that the heart belonged to Andrew, and my new mantra is about taking good care of that heart for his sake as well as mine. This leads me to very useful questions. Contemplating eating something stupid like a cheeseburger, I ask myself, “Would Andrew be pleased that I was subjecting his heart to this junk?” That helps a lot. I owe a duty to take good care of that heart and not waste the gift of life it has given me.
And health-wise things are going very well for me. Last fall I couldn’t walk twenty feet without stopping to let my failing heart catch up with the rest of me. Today I’m in heart rehab and doing 50 minutes on aerobic machines, and, at home, weight training on my universal gym machine (I was a minor-level body builder until about three years ago when my health made me stop, so working out is something I’ve done for decades). Now that there’s no problem with ice and snow I began feeling very guilty about using my handicapped placard when parking (why do it?), so I’ve now resumed parking in the unreserved spots like everyone else. My doctor and rehab trainers have made it clear that it’s good for me to walk as much as possible. So I’m a new man, and I have Andrew and the two of you to thank for that.
Andrew and I share certain characteristics. First of all, no one who knows me thinks I am a quiet and shy person, loving as I do good company, getting my classes into deep discussions, and showing off by doing community theater, playing tournament bridge, and even writing a novel. While no cook, I am known for the “Whaley Martini” far and wide. As it happens, my nephew graduated from Kenyon two years ago. And both Andrew and I have a major connection with Ohio State, where I taught law for thirty years (and most recently was back in the classroom substituting for a colleague who fell on the ice in February and broke his leg, a task I wouldn’t have been able to undertake last fall).
I am very sensitive to the distress you both must still experience from the loss of Andrew, and I have no desire to aggravate it. But if you are interested in talking with me at some point, I see no reason not to give you my email address: firstname.lastname@example.org. I should particularly like to know his birthday so I can celebrate it every year, which I would do while drinking a good cocktail (another indulgence I had to give up because of the old heart). And, unless it would bother you for reasons of privacy or painful remembrance, it would be useful to know something about his death. I received a call that OSU Ross Heart Hospital had a heart for me on the morning of Monday, November 23, and by midnight the operation was over. I assume Andrew died either on that Sunday or early Monday.
In any event, there is no reason at all to reply to any of the above. My curiosity can simply go unsatisfied. I write mainly to thank you for the most extraordinary letter I have ever received.
I would send out this letter physically and sign it in ink, but that would delay getting it to you, so I will send it by email to Jenny Hoover and ask her to print it out and forward on to you.
You have my deepest sympathy, gratitude, and profound admiration.
"About That Heart Transplant," January 24, 2010
"My Heart Belonged to Andrew," February 17, 2010
"A Toast to Andrew," May 2, 2010
"Mama, Biopsies, and My iPad," May 19, 2010
"The First time I Nearly Died," August 3, 2010
"Rehabilitating Doug," June 12, 2010
"The Purring Heart," November 23, 2010
"1999-2001: A Dramatic Story, " December 15, 2010
"Naming My Heart," March 24, 2011
"Report on Old Doug: Health, Theater, eBook, and More," June 28,
"Mama Cat Saves My Life," October 23, 2011
"Walking Away From Death,"
February 29, 2012
Health, Acting, Book Readings, and Snowbirding," September 6, 2012
“A Guide to the Best of My Blog,” April 29, 2013