Ike golfingSomewhere out there, there’s a family who saved my life. And I never really got to thank them.

I was 52 when I had my first heart bypass surgery. We all hoped that would be enough, but I’d had more than one heart attack, and it had taken its toll on my body. Within a few years, I was getting sicker. The doctors said I wouldn’t live without a heart transplant. My arteries were closing again, and my heart muscle was so damaged from the earlier heart attacks that it could no longer pump enough blood.

That’s when the wait began.

My wife, Linda and I, had to move from Mesquite, Nevada to Tucson, so I could be near the University of Arizona Medical Center if a heart arrived. I didn’t know how long the wait would be, but as days turned into weeks and then into months, I began to lose hope.

As I sat in my apartment in Tucson, I felt like giving up. It had now been more than a year since I was put on the heart transplant list, more than a year since I was forced to move away from the home I loved. I was tired of waiting. I wanted to go home.

Physically, I felt pretty good, but I was out of patience. I just wanted to accept the time I had left to live and make the most of it. I’d had a full life – two daughters, a wife I adored. Lots and lots of golfing.

Linda tried to encourage me, tried to remind me of all the great things to come. My first grandchild was on the way, and my daughters were settling into life as adults. I knew I had so much to live for, but I felt as if I was being held prisoner by the pager I had to wear each and every moment of the day. It was my connection to life, but it never made a sound.

It never made a sound, that is, until one year and three months after the day I first received it. It was a simple day, really. Linda and I were getting ready for bed. And when that beeper finally went off, I was more scared than I had ever been before. Ike

Within 24 hours, I went from a 57-year-old with congestive heart failure to a man with a perfectly healthy heart. As I lay in the hospital bed, I knew my recovery was hardly over, but I smiled because I had a life ahead of me. I no longer had to worry about dying.

I don’t know anything about my donor, but I wish I did. I often joke that I must have gotten a girl’s heart – it’s the only thing that explains my new love for shoe shopping and yogurt. I wish I could say thank you to the family who gave me life, to the family who gave me a chance to hit another hole in one, to see my first grandchild – and then a second — to watch my daughters grow. I wrote the donor family a letter, and I hope they received it. But since I can’t look them in the eye and show my gratitude, the best way for me to say thanks is to appreciate life each and every day. So I do.

For me, appreciating life doesn’t mean crossing tours of Spain off my “to do” list. It’s more simple than that. I want to golf in every state in the country – 30 down, 20 to go. All that practice must be paying off, because in 2006, I won the gold medal in golf at the Transplant Games in Kentucky.

Linda and I call ourselves the “Happy Wanderers,” since we spend so much time exploring in our RV. I volunteer more these days – it’s my quiet attempt to give back. And I spend as much time with my family as I possibly can.

I don’t need much more than that, really. I want to wake up each and every day and be grateful for getting one more chance. I want to appreciate the feeling of feeling good. I want to feel it in my heart.

For me, that’s enough.

Read more transplant stories.

Ike’s story was written by volunteer Gabrielle Johnston.