When a seemingly common cold virus attacked Harold Strope in 1994 he was at the time a healthy, active working man in his mid-forties. After the virus attacked his heart muscle, he suffered congestive heart failure and as his heart began to function at only 10 percent, he became eligible for a heart transplant. Within two years of his initial diagnosis, Harold was lucky enough to receive a heart at Massachusetts General Hospital in October 1995. After more than six months recovery, Harold returned to work and home. Now, more than 15 years post-transplant, Harold is retired and pursuing his new hobby – cycling.
From Healthy to Heart Failure:
It was winter 1994 when Harold first got sick. At first, it was the cold that wouldn’t go away. Eventually a doctor thought it was bronchitis. More rest and antibiotics – still he got no better. Then under the thought or pretense it could be pneumonia, a chest x-ray was ordered. The outcome: Congestive Heart Failure. Harold could not breathe, could not get better, because his lungs were filling with fluid and his heart muscle could not pump sufficiently. Unlike other muscles and organs, there’s no rest and rebuilding for the heart. Harold was on a one-way path that could not be changed by any course of exercise, rest, antibiotics, or steroids. While his condition would eventually stabilize for close to a year, the only way to change the course would be through a heart transplant. We lived in Albany, NY – the capitol of NY state, but only hospitals in NYC, Buffalo and Boston were evaluating people for the transplant waiting list and performing transplants. We chose Boston.
Life on the Transplant List
When Harold came home from the initial transplant evaluation, our world changed dramatically. We had to set up a hospital bed in the living room of our house because he could not climb the stairs to the bedrooms on the 2nd and 3rd floors of our old farmhouse. We eliminated all salt and salty foods from our diet to help reduce the swelling in his body (I don’t think I had bacon again until college). We seemed to be getting by.
By the Fall of 1995, Harold was wearing a heart monitor. Then, he was back in the hospital in Albany. And, just three weeks later, he was transported by ambulance from Albany to Boston. Harold’s heart was functioning at less than 10%. He was number 2 on the waiting list.
Late night on October 26th we got the call from Harold from his hospital room, “They think they have a heart for me.” Honestly, we didn’t believe him. Shouldn’t a nurse or doctor call us? After many more calls back and forth with Massachusetts General Hospital, it was clear – Harold was getting a new heart!
Getting a New Heart and Living Life to the Fullest
Harold received his heart on October 26, 1995. Despite what you see on TV and in movies, the road to recovery is very long. And well worth it. Harold spent about a week in ICU and few more weeks in the hospital. He was then transferred to a rehab hospital. And, then spent another month living near the hospital. All in all, our family spent about 4 months in Boston and Harold was out of work for about another 6 months after the transplant.
While the initial recovery (and rejection) period has long passed, there are some things to take into consideration as a heart transplant recipient (or family member of one) – we return to Massachusetts General Hospital twice a year for check-ups and Harold will always be immuno-suppressed – making every minor surgery or possible ailment a significant concern.
Post transplant, Harold worked for approximately 13 more years before retiring. He took up hiking. He continues to boat. He’s helping neighbor’s build decks, sheds, and fences. He has helped me move cross country several times. He was at my brother’s wedding. He’s cheered me on in three Ironman triathlons and numerous other races. And, he’s now a cyclist and triathlete All of this, thanks to an organ donor.