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Jeremy Olsen: Gift Of 8 Campaign

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2014 was both the best, and most terrifying year of my life. It started with the birth of my son, then the most incredible spring and summer with he and my wife. Then in September a bad reaction to medication started a chain reaction that ended in a massive arrhythmia, an emergency cardioversion, and almost two weeks in the ICU. When I was released we were working on recovery and rehab plans, but by Christmas my prognosis had changed. Days before my son was 10 months old it was clear I’d die unless I was approved for, and could hold on long enough to receive a transplanted heart. Within five months I been admitted into the hospital indefinitely. Surgery or die sort of thing. My wife would try to visit most days on her lunch or way home from work. I watched my son learn to walk via FaceTime and was told later he was desperate to get to me and my face was on the iPad. Life was lonely, and quite simply felt like it was ending slowly. I wrote a lot of letters. Tried to say the things I’d regret not saying, and tried to stay as positive as possible while getting prepared for the worst. By sheer coincidence my lowest point hit the day before my surgery. I remember just staring into the bathroom mirror with tears trying to figure out if I could do this. As if I could somehow find the gauge at which point I would break and be reassured that I still had a while to go. As it turned out that answer didn’t exist, I still had to make it, and I did. I promised myself I’d hold on and keep it together as long as it took. Even if i was terrified, I’d hold it together on the surface. That’s how I wanted to be remembered. Typically when an organ becomes available everything happens fast, but because if reasons I can’t mention here mine was a little slower. We had almost 24 hours notice, and although you’d think it would be stressful the night before was relaxed. An indescribable weight was gone. This was it, and we were ready to fight through whatever was in front of us.

I’ve talked to a lot of transplant patients about guilt that comes from this surgery. We all feel it. It’s really hard to wait and hope for something that’s going to save your life when you know it means someone else lost theirs. We know one isn’t because of the other, but also that the foresight, strength and empathy it takes to make that decision is something special. Even uncommon. Typically when you go into surgery there isn’t a lot of time to process things, and sometime after you wake up that load of gratitude, grief, sorrow, happiness and empathy for your donor hit hard. Really, really hard. In my case I’d had some tome before to really appreciate the chance I was getting, and the fact another person I’d never met made this happen. A little nerve wracking, but also helpful because you know the impact of their legacy is growing infinitely. When I woke up I was ready to work as hard as possible to make the most out of it I could. Three years later I’ve finished a dozen endurance events, won lots of medals and had the opportunity to show just what recipients can do with the chance. More importantly I’ve been able to be the doting father I’d always hoped to be. My donor both saved my wife from dealing with the wreckage of losing her partner slowly just after getting our family started, but also gave his father back to my son to teach him you don't quit just because something is hard. There is nothing I can say to express the gratitude, and I appreciate it every single day. I am one of the additions to my donors legacy and although I’ll never know who they were they’re always going to be my greatest hero.

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