By Kristy Sidlar, Author
For National Donor Awareness Day, February 14th, I am reflecting on my three-year journey as a very fortunate heart recipient.
I am forever grateful!
On the outside, you see a thriving woman who has been given a second chance, embracing every day to the max. Organ donation saved my life, allowed my family to breathe a sigh of relief, and has given me a platform to raise awareness for organ donation.
But being an organ recipient isn’t all rainbows and butterflies, and I want to share some of the reality of it all.
What does being an organ recipient mean to me? It means R-E-S-I-L-I-E-N-C-E (always blanketed with a huge dose of gratitude). Each letter of the word “resilience” inspires a message:
Receiving my rare heart diagnosis when I was 31 years old. Making the conscious decision to not accept it as a death sentence, but to choose to use it for good — immediately becoming a volunteer, speaker and advocate for the American Heart Association.
Enduring 20 years of failing health, daily medication, annual testing, and ultimately going into advanced heart failure while EVERY DAY wanting to have my old healthy heart and physical fitness back to what it used to be. Yet I pressed on, and new better days were ahead.
Serious decline in 2021, resulting in my hospitalization, being expedited on the transplant list, and getting ready for the most significant medical event of my life.
I got the call! One day after being on the transplant list… a perfectly matched donor heart became available to me. At 6:30 am on 3/11/21 (during the height of COVID) I was wheeled into the OR – ready to become Kristy 2.0.
Living without limits – My surgery went remarkably well, my hospital stay was shorter than average, my recovery progressed faster than normal, and I was grabbing life by the horns (all with my doctors’ approval). I was living with gratitude (while recognizing my donor family’s grief and honoring them daily).
Inspiring others – I wrote a book; I speak to civic organizations, corporations, media outlets, and anyone else who will listen; I encourage people in my daily life to monitor their heart health. This gift is not something I keep to myself. I use it as a platform to celebrate and pay homage to my donor.
Embrace the challenges – 25 heart biopsies later, hundreds of vials of blood, never-ending doctor appointments, 90+ pills a week (still), the constant monitoring and reminder that a new heart means new obstacles, but every day is a reminder that I am living a healthy fulfilling life.
New diagnoses post-transplant: a progressive heart condition that will likely result in another transplant; a form of leukemia that although not deadly is one more thing to monitor and could be progressive; and a bout of rejection of my heart. I have gotten through each of these with a positive attitude and great results, but they are reminders that a heart transplant is not one-and-done event.
Challenging the norm – I don’t want to just survive to be an average statistic; I choose to thrive! I look for ways to care for my body, my mind, my spirit, my financial wellness, my social network, and the work, hobbies and volunteer outlets that give me purpose. Life is a gift… I live it to the max.
Emotionally reading the letter from my donor’s family on 2/2/24 (almost three years from my transplant date). The ultimate reminder that I live every day for HER — my selfless donor who left three children behind. Every day since I awoke from my surgery, I have placed my hand over my heart and given thanks to her and her family. Now I get to thank her by name. Thank you, Angie!
Please give the gift of life.
On this National Donor Awareness Day, February 14th, please allow my story to inspire you to give the gift of life.
If you haven’t checked the box on your driver’s license, and are interested in being a donor, I implore you to get that done.
It’s so easy… and it’s so MEANINGFUL. One organ and tissue donor can help up to 75 people! Help others live a resilient 2.0 life. You can make a difference like Angie did for me.