Young at Heart

There are a lot of scary things about being a transplant recipient. Not only was I suddenly bombarded with endless medical procedures that I would have to endure for the rest of my life but I also started hearing all kinds of scary information about what it means to be a transplant recipient. Some of them included finding out I had to take medication for the rest of my life to stay alive, finding out that medication can cause cancer and other terrible things, learning what it means to be immunocompromised, and dealing with adapting to my new life. Out of everything though, the one that has scared me the most has been the rumour that heart transplants have a time limit. 

The first time I heard that I think I was probably about 15 years old. I would have been less than two years post-transplant and working my hardest at living my best life while learning how to manage being in high school and all of the new medical considerations I had. Back then, I was around a lot more heart transplant patients than I am now. We all had our clinic appointments booked at the same times. We also use to help out at the annual Heart Institute telethon together. Though I was very shy back then and wanted to hide from it all, there were many nice things about meeting other heart recipients, especially those with a bit more experience than I had. They were all so positive and healthy. It was very encouraging and helped me squash some of my fears. Until I met this one particular guy. 

We were at one of the telethons one year and my mom and I happened to be seated next to another heart transplant recipient. He was a lot older. He was an adult. I’ve never been good at guessing people’s ages, I just knew he wasn’t young like I was at the time. There was something off about him from the start. He wasn’t happy and positive like the others. In between picking up pledge donation calls, he would chat with me and my mom. Just like the others, he was interested in sharing stories. It was all going pretty well until he said it. It was something I had never heard before. This was a time pre-google. It’s not information I would have stumbled upon on my own. The information he put in my head that day would haunt me for the rest of my life. Or at least it might. I haven’t quite gotten to the rest of my life yet. So, I’m not entirely sure. But I am pretty sure. Anyway… You know what I mean!

Where was I? Or right. What he told me that day would haunt me until today and likely for some time yet. He mentioned the 20-year limit. I’d never heard this before. All I could think of was “you mean I might have to do this shit again”? I was scared but, even more than that, I was angry.  How selfish was this guy to share that kind of misery with me, a kid who felt like I had just gotten to the other side of all the hard stuff? Then I saw my poor mom’s face and became even angrier that he scared my mom.

I’ll never forget that guy. I sometimes wonder if he’s proven his little theory wrong. Unfortunately, it’s not just his theory. It’s quite a common thing that really does happen. If they make it to 20 years, not many heart recipients make it much further without requiring another transplant. One thing that helped me stay positive was being young at heart. Literally.

This heart is about 2 years younger than me so I always jokingly thought of myself as “young at heart”. But that fun little tidbit only gets me so far. It was fun when I turned 31 and this heart was still in its 20’s. It’s fun to pretend to be younger from time to time. But it’s also pretty fantastic to get older. I recently met someone who reminded me of that. My new friend Claude reminded me that one of the beautiful things about aging is that you get to meet so many wonderful people along the way. The other day Claude was talking about hard it was for him to pass a major age milestone. I completely understood. I’ve been finding turning 35 pretty hard too. We’re at completely different stages in life but there we were, sitting at the same table, sharing a meal and feeling the same way about the number attached to those stages.

Funnily enough, I’ve almost always felt like I’ve had to disclose my age to people when they are younger than me. I don’t mean teenagers. They usually already know haha. I mean people I meet at work or at events and things. If I’m becoming friends with someone, I, for some reason, feel the need to tell them I’m older. They never believe me at first. I don’t know if they’re just being nice but it’s nice to hear. Or maybe I’m just immature? I’ll never know. (Don’t tell me!) Claude did something similar the other day. He let us know his age. That’s when I realized none of it matters. There were four of us at that table and the age span was almost 40 years. And you know what? We were all having a nice time. Our ages didn’t impede our ability to have a nice meal together and a fun conversation about shared interests. Our ages didn’t change anything.

The thing about heart transplants is they’re only 56 years old. The first heart trasnplant was in 1967. That’s not very old. That’s not that much time at all. We don’t actually know how well this could work yet. We don’t really know what advancements are coming or what new drugs there will be or anything. We don’t know how much better it can get. Some of the people at that table were not even born when I had a heart transplant. And then there was Claude showing me that enjoying life and spending time with people he cares about is what was keeping him young at heart. It seemed like to him nothing else really mattered.

In the almost 22 years since I had a heart transplant, there have already been so many advancements in medicine and the transplant world. I cannot wait to see what else they come up with. Until then, I will continue to age happily while continuing to be young at heart. Not because this heart is actually younger than me, but because I will keep trying new things, I will keep going on adventures and I will keep spending time with people like Claude who remind me, if ever I need it, that just being alive is all it’s really about.


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