It’s one thing intellectually to think you’re getting a heart transplant in 2010, and quite another months before that to receive a morning phone call (I was working at the computer) on Nov. 23: "Mr. Whaley, we have a heart for you." That was the most startling sentence I’ve ever heard in my life! Of course, the old heart started beating very fast indeed. The caller asked me how quickly I could get to the hospital, and I replied, “Twenty minutes—oh wait, I have to pack (I had spent some time in hospitals and knew all the things I would need to take with me)—how about forty minutes?” “That would be fine,” I was told, so I ventured to stretch it to, “How about an hour?” “Forty minutes,” came back the stern reply. I threw things into a suitcase and climbed into the car.
I have never driven so carefully in my life. The slightest traffic problem—even a fender bender—would have cost me time and possibly the new heart, which I assumed was on ice waiting for me. I arrived at the hospital, submitted to a biopsy (where they run a tube down a vein in your neck and take a small slice of your heart for lab work—I have now had many of these, see below), and at 7:30 p.m. that same day I was wheeled off to the operating room. The surgeon who performed the operation was Dr. Sun, called by the staff “our rock star,” because last past September had done a transplant in two hours! (The normal one takes five or more hours). The heart they inserted had come from Riverside Hospital, which is just around the corner from Ross Heart Hospital (and that was splendid luck since hearts can come from as far away as New York). The surgeon who fetched it from Riverside came by days later and told me that when he first saw it, he thought "that is a beautiful heart." A nurse who watched the operation was surprised that the old heart they removed was so enlarged that it was three times bigger than the new heart they put in. I was home and happy eight days later. Yes, eight days!
The whole experience has been like science fiction. I keep thinking that the more time that passes since this miracle occurred will make it seem more commonplace to me, but no. It still fills me with a wonder that’s growing instead of decreasing. What an amazing world we inhabit in the 21st century!