One -- as if there are no miracles.
Two -- as if everything is a miracle.”
Lee Strong has many dreams and a restless yet purposeful nature to support their pursuit. If you condense all those dreams, you arrive at a fundamental purpose: To be a better man. That is -- to love deeper, to dream even bigger, to lead more people to believe in themselves, and most definitely to have more FUN. We both know that life has hurdles to clear -- or to crash into and then get back up -- and that life is also supposed to have multiple finish line victories and as much wonder as we can pack in.
To be continually in the process of becoming a better man is a BIG primary dream. It’s clear that earning and welcoming this new heart is preparing Lee for the next quantum leap forward in becoming a better, and better man.
It’s also clear that Lee is -- that we both are -- getting some incredible assistance. In fact, these assists -- these boosts in the directions of our dreams -- are so unlikely and so frequent that they cannot be delegated to coincidence or serendipity, and certainly not to luck.
This steam locomotive of thought just pulled into the station:
What are miracles but occurrences that most people might call impossible? I’ve heard it said that God can do the impossible, and also that “God is love.” All cultures assign omniscience and omnipotence to their deities. Can we deduce that Love is a God who performs miracles?
My personal belief is that the source of all miracles can only be love powered by faith in the impossible.
When Lee and I began to list our miracles, we counted anything that MOST people would deem as veering heavily towards “impossible” on the Probability Scale.
As these statistically “impossible” things occur, Lee and I are continually asking each other, “WHAT are the odds?”
Strange that we were never surprised by these beat-all-odds occurrences. We do feel a sense of wonder and most definitely express gratitude for each one as it sails on in.
Okay -- reality check! Although of late we’ve been experiencing a virtual cascade of miracles, it’s not always that way. There are intermittent episodes of pain, fear, discouragement and some very occasional bouts with anger and doubt. This heart transplant journey is one of life’s tunnels of fire. There’s no gliding on through without encountering innumerable speed bumps and potholes -- with the occasional “BRIDGE OUT AHEAD” moments.
It would be necessarily to grow through several experiences as intense or even more intense than a heart transplant to maintain the Buddha’s seamless serenity through the terrors, indignities and drug-induced moods swings of major surgery.
It’s precisely because of these intense experiences that Lee can decide to be transformed rather than defeated. As excruciating as it is traversing this gauntlet-- or a different obstacle course just as intense -- this is how true life warriors are made.
When I see Lee’s signature grin go into hiding and his brow furrow, I say to him, “Oh no! Struggle face! What can we change?”. But there’s an underlying certitude that Lee Strong will be emerging once again from the chrysalis. I believe that his metamorphosis will stun us with the brilliance of his wisdom and the beauty of his flight.
Let’s get down to defining and quantifying … if it can be done! We’ve been the recipients of so many miracles that I’m sure we’ll miss many. Here’s what we can come up with right now -- in no particular order:
Miracle number one: We were literally across the street when the call came in that Lee’s new heart was here. The LVAD* Team had cleared us to travel up to a distance of 6 hours travel time away from the hospital. We hadn't gone that far yet- only about three hours away. We had talked about a trip to hike at Land’s End that day, but no, we were one MINUTE away when the call came in: “Your heart is here!” *Left Ventricle Assist Device or heart pump
Miracle number two: Lee wasn't even on the 1A list for a heart yet. He was still on the 1B list waiting to be given a 30 day shot as 1A (top of the list). People simply accruing time on the 1B list can wait many months or even years for transplant. We waited five months. We know people from the hospital support group who have waited 13 months, and one who waited six years. This means that this new heart was the perfect heart for Lee and the perfect heart for no one else who was waiting.
Miracle number three: When you first begin this process, all potential transplant recipients are asked to sign an agreement to consider a “compromised “ heart. This would be a heart from someone with no medical record or with a less than perfect medical record (hepatitis, AIDS, etc). Normally, these conditions do not affect the efficacy of the heart, but there are no guarantees. Signing this agreement is strongly recommended because there aren’t enough hearts to go around. We signed, and so, I felt a great burden lifted when our surgeon, Dr. Wieselthaler, told me that Lee’s new heart is “pristine.” Beautiful word “pristine”!
Miracle number four: Lee is recovering so quickly and so smoothly from the transplant surgery that he tied the current record on speed of discharge -- nine days. The average hospital stay after a heart transplant is 24 days. No, it’s not a contest, but it did seem an indication that this new heart is extraordinarily happy in Lee’s chest.
Miracle number five: Lee received his heart NOW, not almost 16 years ago when heart transplant was first proposed for him. He was able to avoid transplant because he had textbook performance from the meds they prescribed back then, and has suffered almost no symptoms over the past 15 years. There hasn’t been a single cardiologist that hasn’t been amazed that Lee’s heart suspended its inevitable deterioration for so long. In 2001 the surgery for transplant and the post-transplant medication brew was much less sophisticated and much more challenging for the patient. The mechanized heart assist devices back then were the size of refrigerators and hospitalization was mandatory. Lee wouldn’t have made it to transplant without the LVAD, but his device was the size of a camera bag, and, miraculously, he lived a normal existence with the small assist device implanted in his chest. Lee had a drive line leaving his upper abdomen that was attached to a small purse-sized bag containing the controller and batteries moving about 6 liters of blood through his body every minute. He wore this bag over his shoulder like a camera bag and I carried a backup and extra batteries. There was no hospital confinement, no restrictions at all except immersion in water was prohibited. We took three ferry rides and many train rides to see friends and family and to explore San Francisco. We even resumed building our business about six weeks into the recovery process. Lee’s enlarged, extremely friable former heart waited -- time-traveled in stasis -- until heart pump and transplant science had made a quantum leap forward.
Miracle number six (These are definitely not in chronological order!): We have a little haven in the city 20 minutes from the hospital, and the rent is one third San Francisco’s current inflated rate. Not to mention that no lease was required and our pleas to be allowed to pay for utilities have fallen on deaf ears. How did this happen? Our nephew had the courage to ask the woman he was dating if we could move into her recently vacated basement studio, and she had the generosity to meet our budget and help out innumerable other ways as well. Now that our pharmaceutical bill surpasses our rent, this is greatly appreciated… Jessica and our nephew Joey were the first of our many San Francisco angels.
Miracle number seven (travelling back through time): Last March we began to give away, sell, donate nearly everything we owned (2 cars, 1 truck, contents of a 3 bedroom home and a large detached office.) We accomplished this in record time. After only 6 weeks of divesting, we moved into our RV and hit the road in early April. Six weeks later Lee’s heart began to fail in earnest. Seems like misfortune to just dip our toes into our big dream of wonder and adventure and then be yanked into an entirely different reality? NO -- what would we have done with our home and everything else while we spent these many months in San Francisco to wait for and recover from a heart transplant? We had no idea what was coming but it turned out that a light “backpack” has been a tremendous advantage in climbing this medical Everest.!
Miracle number eight: Lee and I decided to get married almost three years ago --- despite the advice of financial counsel. I can’t quite recall WHY it’s not always financially advantageous to get married in your sixties -- but we decided we weren’t listening to any of the reasons TO get married (ecumenical or business credibility OR medical) and we certainly weren’t listening to reasons NOT to get married. We wanted the ONLY reason we made this leap to be that we are living the greatest love affair of all time. (No one has to agree with this statement but the two of us). Because I was officially Lee’s wife, it was never questioned that I would be at Lee’s side -- even that terrifying night in the Intensive Care Unit as five nurses leapt around his room trying to load enough blood into him to replace all that was spilling out after his first surgery. Being married gave us immediate credibility and automatic access.
Miracle number nine: We’ve each had roughly 25 years of attitude training -- to always visualize the best outcome, to listen, encourage and celebrate, to pivot when discouragement creeps up on us. There could not have been better preparation for this odyssey. Rarely a day passes that Lee and I don’t express gratitude for this culture of positivity we’ve inhabited for so long. We’ve been carried by the books we’ve read, the audios we’ve listened to and the people we’ve associated with -- not only through the surgeries and the recoveries, but during the evaluation process. Heart transplant candidates are evaluated on attitude as much as on physical condition before being accepted for consideration. They are looking for someone who will make good use of such a great gift, who will persist, overcome and contribute in some way. What a miracle that we were both so thoroughly prepared for something neither of us could anticipate.
Miracle number ten: Lee’s new heart is thumping along so strongly that it sometimes keeps him awake at night. It’s been so long -- over 16 years -- since he could hear his heart unassisted by a stethoscope or ultrasound that this, too, qualifies as a miracle. Our nurses gifted us both with a stethoscope so that we can listen to this miracle any time we want. We’re wearing those stethoscopes out!
To be continued…. We have no doubt. After all, “EVERYTHING is a miracle.”