It is our pleasure to welcome back Andrea Hampton as a guest blogger this month! As you may recall, Andrea guest blogged for us last July about organ donation awareness. She shared the story of her husband, Greg, who was on the waiting list for a heart transplant.
We’re happy to report that Greg did in fact receive a new heart late last summer! In fact, on March 18, 2014, both Greg and Andrea came to Alex and Ani World Headquarters to talk about Greg’s progress post transplant and to educate on the importance of organ donation.
Andrea shares the life changing experience below and reminds us all to appreciate the beauty of life, for each day is truly a gift.
I’m humbled to be invited back as a guest blogger to share an update about the heart transplant journey that Greg and I have been on. A LOT has happened since my blog from July! Most importantly, Greg received his heart transplant on August 22.
In early August, I went on a leave of absence from work; it was getting unmanageable to work full-time, spend time at the hospital and take care of things at home (dogs, bills, taking care of the house, etc.). Beyond the logistical challenges of trying to “do it all” was the toll it was taking on my mental, emotional and physical health. My leave of absence came at a perfect time as it gave me a few weeks to rest and recharge and be ready for the day of surgery and the days immediately following.
Greg and I had many conversations over the months of how would we react when “the call” came. What would he do if I wasn’t there with him when he found out? How should he tell me? We ultimately decided, goofily enough, on a text message containing a string of emojis including a phone, an hourglass, a helicopter, an ambulance, a hospital, a heart and a face with a surgical mask on!
On Wednesday, August 21st, Greg was scheduled to go to the cath lab and then have a couple of hours of bed rest, so we agreed that I would go to the beach for a couple of hours of R&R and then visit him later in the afternoon once he was done with the brief recovery. I was sitting on the beach and had just gotten out of the water when I realized I should check my phone. It was about 1:20pm. My alerts/banners showed I had texts waiting from Greg and from this woman Heather, one of the transplant coordinators. My gut told me what it was and sure enough, Greg’s text said: “very early stages but….” followed by the string of emojis we had picked out. OMG!
By the time I got home to pack a bag, make arrangements for the dogs and get to the hospital it was nearing 4pm. I walked onto the floor and was told by Greg’s nurse that she thought it was “really going to happen” and that one of the surgeons was on the floor reading Greg’s chart. Sure enough, the doctor came to see us shortly thereafter and confirmed that they had located a donor heart for Greg and that we should expect surgery late that night. Nearly 7 months later, I still don’t have the words to explain the events and emotions of that day/night. I was scared, thrilled, excited, relieved, petrified, grateful, and emotional. The hours passed and Greg went through pre-op tests and prep and we went through every possible emotion. At midnight when the calendar turned to August 22nd, Greg was transported down to pre-op. His brother and I were able to escort him to pre-op and my sisters arrived from New Jersey just in time to see him there as well before they took him to the operating room.
By 7:30 in the morning, Greg’s surgery was nearing completion and the surgeon came to talk to us. He told us that it was a very good heart and that it wanted to start beating inside Greg on its own, before they even took the clamps off! While it was a very long wait – 6.5 months since hospitalization and exactly 18 months since being listed – it was the most amazing news and the greatest blessing I could ever imagine. Once Greg was settled in the ICU we were able to get a glimpse of him. He was in a deep, sedated sleep, but his brother and I got to go in his room and hold his hands and see him. It was nothing short of unbelievable – he had been instantly transformed from being almost bluish and always cold to the touch due to the lack of blood and oxygen flow from his heart to having warm hands and rosy pink lips and cheeks. I had never seen anything more amazing in my life!
All of this was possible because someone chose to be a donor. That person saved Greg’s life. That person likely saved other lives as we have reason to believe they donated other organs. There is not a single day that has gone by that I haven’t thought of the donor and his/her family and prayed for them to find peace and comfort in the selfless gift they gave Greg and as they navigate their own loss.
We are beyond fortunate that Greg’s recovery has been remarkable. There have been little blips along the way – and a LOT of blood work! – but Greg’s biopsy results continually show no sign of rejection. It truly is a miracle. We both feel strongly about educating people about organ donation and sharing our experiences to hopefully encourage others to consider if being a donor is the right choice for them. We will forever be grateful to the donor and their family and will always honor the gift they gave Greg.
I’m so grateful to the Alex and Ani team for letting us share our story through this blog and through the in-store events we did last year around organ donation awareness. About a year ago, I had lunch with Vice President of Charity by Design, Nicki Maher, to talk about the potential for a bangle benefiting Donate Life America and to brainstorm potential charm ideas. I’m honored to be a small part of the launch of the Life Preserver Bangle and am forever grateful to Alex and Ani for supporting this cause and for giving me (+) energy during such a challenging and frightening time. I truly cherish the meaning of the Life Preserver and the Alex and Ani community. Thank you for the tremendous support and (+) energy always!