April 19, 2013

Do NOT Let Me Die: 04/19/2008

What do I remember of this day 5 years ago? To be quite candid, I remember very little, yet the events of this weekend 5 years ago altered the landscape of two families forever.

Having been taken by air from Dekalb County Airfield in metro Atlanta to Burke Airfield in Cleveland, OH, a terrified version of me was greeted by Gonzalo Gonzalez-Stawinski, MD [CardioThoracic Transplant Surgery] and Randall Starling, MD [Head of Heart Failure and Cardiac Transplant Medicine] at the Cleveland Clinic.

My admitting diagnosis was end stage heart failure; my prognosis was bleak.

That being said, my directives were clear as I took Gonzo’s hands in mine, looked into his eyes-soul, and said: “Do NOT let me die. I am not asking for a lifetime simply a little more time to watch our 5 year old become a young man.”

Transplant evaluation began almost immediately as everyone was acutely aware that my hours were numbered in the absence of a new heart.

Evaluation for transplant is one thing; definitive medical-surgical recommendations would prove to be elusive as everyone found themselves long on questions and ever-so-short on answers collectively struggling against the undertow of death, unwilling to go gently into the night.

A Left Ventricular Assist Device as well as a total artificial heart were considered as options to bridge me to transplant; however, being a petite bundle of fiery sass, my body incapable of housing such cumbersome hardware.

The questions being asked, the options being entertained were full on, life and death, extraordinary, heroic, and cutting edge as our team sought and fought to bridge me to transplant.

The memories that I own of this day 5 years ago are few:

  1. Telling my husband that though I wanted him with me, it was more important that he be with our son. Gut-wrenching doesn’t even approach being a adequate descriptor of the anguish we felt knowing that I might not survive the LifeFlight
  2. Mountain Dew: couldn’t drink it, but SO wanted to
  3. The cool, crisp breeze off of Lake Erie as I was transferred from plane to ambulance
  4. Fully feeling the reality that my body was shutting down and I was dying

It seems more than appropriate on National BLUE and GREEN Day that I encourage you with my life gifted to me by my donor and her family to become a registered organ donor.

Go to DonateLifeAmerica to become a registered organ donor today and/or click to donate in support of our mission.



  1. Fernando Pena III

    April 21, 2013 at 2:02 am — Reply

    After my local cardiologist told me, “I do not have the expertise to treat you anymore…” I was rushed from El Paso,TX to St. Luke’s Episcopal Hospital in Houston, TX (about 800 miles). My organs were shutting down and the AirMed jet could only carry me, the nurse to operate the external heart pump and fight crew. I remember being wheeled into the emergency ICU in Houston and greeted by 2 nurses, “you must be Mr Pena”. I was in an induced coma for 1 month during which I was implanted with an LVAD. Eventually I received a new heart and came home to see my 4-year-old son grow to be a 12-year-old young man. I look forward to seeing his high school graduation, college graduation and beyond. I received my transplant on 8/5/2005.

    • mhyh

      April 21, 2013 at 2:08 am — Reply

      WOW: Thank you for the encouragement of your journey and may you live to see your great grandchildren!


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