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9 Lessons You Can Learn from My Fight for Life

Kevin Lopez is a client Ambassador who turned to Help Hope Live in 2022 as he navigated the effects of nearly two decades of debilitating heart issues. In October 2022, Kevin received a heart transplant, and a new life began.

Here are nine lessons Kevin learned along this journey—from both the darkness and the light.

Kevin Lopez is smiling as he literally holds his old heart in his hands, raising it to the level of his own heart in blue medical gloves. The heart is yellow-gray and cut into slices but kept together with a band, and it is larger than an orange. He appears to be in a hospital check-up style room. He has light brown skin, a bald head, dark eyes, a salt-and-pepper goatee, and black-rimmed glasses, and he wears a gray and white striped button-up short-sleeved shirt. Over the photo in the top-left corner is a logo of a hand holding a sugar skull detailed heart with a fuse like a grenade, all in shocking pink with yellow fine detail. The hand is held in a skeleton's grasp with gold marigolds, additional sugar skulls, the Texas and American flags, and the text Heart of a Warrior 10.23.2022.

I can’t believe it’s been a year since my heart transplant.

I remember the day so well. It was early Sunday morning, October 23, 2022.

I was in downtown Dallas, admitted indefinitely starting September 28, 2022, as I waited for a heart transplant.

I was asleep when I received a call to my cell at 2:19 a.m. I didn’t recognize the number as I was trying to wake up, but I remembered that one of my transplant coordinator nurses was originally from Virginia—that’s why I answered.

In a photo taken in profile as he sits in the passenger seat of a car, Kevin Lopez hugs a red heart plushie signed by medical staff members and has an expression of discomfort or melancholy on his face. Kevin has light brown skin, dark eyes, a short dark goatee, a bald head, and black rimmed glasses. There is rain on the car windows.

Lesson 1: A Slow Wait Can Become a Sprint

It was Nurse Ashley with a very happy tone in her voice. She said, “Mr. Lopez, I have some good news for you. You have an offer of a heart.”

I was in disbelief. My emotions and thoughts started to race. I was in shock, and I cried.

I was transferred to the surgeon, and I had a good conversation with him where he reassured me that he thought the heart was a very good match for me.

They informed me it was a high-risk heart, but I had already decided months before that I would accept a high-risk heart, so there wasn’t anything to contemplate. The heart was positive for hepatitis C, so we discussed the risks and the treatment plan.

The surgery was tentatively scheduled for 11 a.m.

After the phone call, I called my daughter, Nicole, who is 28. We cried over the telephone about it. It had been a very long road to get to that point, and we felt the heaviness of the moment.

She picked up my son, Lukas, who is 14, and headed to the hospital.

In an extremely emotional and intimate captured moment, Kevin Lopez lies in a hospital bed and clutches his son's arm in his right hand, looking into his son's eyes with an expression of intense love. Kevin has light brown skin, a bald head, dark eyes, and a salt-and-pepper goatee. His son has light brown skin, dark eyes, short dark hair, a blue medical face mask, and a red hoodie.

Lesson 2: Expect to Feel Every Emotion

Once my loved ones arrived, I really felt at peace. We just held each other tightly and cried in joy about the news. We were all so happy.

I could tell that my kids were nervous about what was coming, as was I, but there wasn’t anything left for anyone to do until after the surgery. It was a really surreal feeling.

I was elated to have such wonderful news of the gift of life from my donor, but at the same time, I felt extremely guilty that someone lost their life.

I was thinking about the donor’s family and the emotions they were feeling. My kids and I prayed for peace and healing for my donor and their family.

A photo of Kevin Lopez and his daughter. Kevin is lying in a hospital bed with a light green hospital gown folded down so his upper chest is exposed with many medical wires and tubes connected to it. Kevin has light brown skin, a salt-and-pepper goatee, dark eyes, black rimmed glasses, and a bald head. His daughter has light brown skin, dark hair pulled back into a bun, and dark eyes that are beautifully crinkled upward from her genuine smile.

Time was going by fast now, and I was starting to get more nervous.

Lesson 3: Reality Hits Hard

Just before 11 a.m., the surgery team arrived to take me away.

They were running down the hall with me on the bed as my donor heart arrival was quickly approaching. I was able to hug, kiss, and say goodbyes outside the operating room— possibly sharing my last words with my children.

This was one of the hardest moments of my life.

In an emotionally charged captured moment, Kevin Lopez wears a hospital gown and hugs his son and daughter at the same time with an intense expression on his face of fear, love, and resilience. He has light brown skin and a bald head. His son and daughter have light brown hair and wear casual clothes.

I was trying to stay strong and keep my warrior mindset for my kids, but inside, I was terrified.

I have had quite a few trips into the operating room because of my heart, but this time was different. There was so much equipment, tools, monitors—and A LOT of people. I had to dig deep to keep my composure.

The team was ready to start immediately and administered anesthesia. The anesthesiologist asked me to tell him a joke, so I did…

And then I went into the darkness, waiting to return.

In a hospital room full of equipment and carts, Kevin Lopez lies with his eyes closed and intubated in a hospital bed as his two children hug each other tightly in an emotional moment. Kevin has light brown skin and a bald head. His daughter and son both have light brown skin and dark hair and wear casual athletic clothing as they embrace.

Lesson 4: Look for Signs of Progress

I felt better immediately after the transplant.

When I woke up from the procedure, still intubated, I felt so hot—that’s because I actually had blood flowing to my extremities again. I had more color in my complexion.

The initial inpatient recovery went as well as it could go. I did my best to keep a positive attitude and be an example for my kids and others around me.

Kevin Lopez lies in a hospital bed hooked up to an IV cart with a light green hospital gown and a light blue transparent hair cap. He has hospital bracelets on his left wrist, light brown skin, a salt-and-pepper goatee, and dark eyes, and he's making a funny pursed-lip expression though his eyes look tired.

The day after the transplant, I was able to stand and take baby steps just a few hours after waking up . The staff inspired me to stand, walk, and build endurance—which was no easy task.

I was finally able to return home on November 10, 2022—18 days after the transplant.

Kevin Lopez and his two children are in a hospital room together while Kevin is hooked up to a medical cart. Kevin has light brown skin, a bald head, a salt-and-pepper goatee, black rimmed glasses, a gray t-shirt, dark sweatpants, and slip-on camo green shoes. Kevin's daughter has light brown skin, black hair pulled back, dark eyes, tortoiseshell glasses, a t-shirt, maroon athletic leggings, and sneakers. His son has light brown skin, short dark hair, dark eyes, a gray t-shirt, athletic shorts, and red sneakers.

A week later, I had to be readmitted because the wounds from the removal of my implanted defibrillator and the area where they opened me up for transplant had re-opened. I was treated for infection, and after discharge, I had to use a wound vac for several months and receive two surgeries to help my open wounds heal.

A surgeon also installed five titanium plates with screws in my sternum and ribcage to help hold my sternum together.

Lesson 5: Depression and Joy Can Co-Exist

The first month post-transplant was such a rollercoaster of emotions.

At first, it was such a huge high, with a lot of joy, humility, and thankfulness. Then I would have some really low days.

I would question if I was worthy of such a gift, and I would struggle with how much effort it would take to complete minor everyday tasks.

I would go back and forth with mood swings of happiness and depression.

During that time, the transplant staff was very attentive and reassured me and my family in several different ways that I was doing well, and everything would get better. They were right.

Kevin Lopez is seated in a wheelchair connected to medical equipment with a wolf face blanket over his lap, surrounded by seven female RN medical staff members, all wearing navy scrubs. Kevin has light brown skin, a bald head, dark eyes, black rimmed glasses, and a salt-and-pepper goatee. He and all the female RNs around him are smiling.

Every single day after transplant has gotten me to a place that’s a little bit better than the day before.

There were some bad days, but the good days outweighed the bad ones.

I noticed the biggest rise in my energy 6-7 months after transplant. Today, I have a lot more endurance. I am able to do some of the things I used to do physically before my heart issues significantly impacted by health and capabilities.

In a brightly-lit lobby, Kevin Lopez is dressed in a suit and bowtie holding an inscribed Spartan helmet in his left hand. Next to him is a man in a navy suit with a tie seated in his blue metallic wheelchair, also holding a Spartan helmet in his left hand. Kevin has light brown skin, a bald head, dark eyes, black-rimmed glasses, and a salt-and-pepper goatee. The man seated beside him has light skin, close-dropped dark hair with shaved sides, and a brown goatee.

Lesson 6: It Will Change You

Transplant really changes you emotionally. I have always tried to be a positive person, but getting a transplant has made me feel appreciation for life. I believe that I am more patient now, and I can appreciate the little things.

I have a clear sense of where I want to be in life and what is important to me.

Kevin and his two children are all grinning and wearing matching t-shirts in front of a brick wall outdoors. Kevin's daughter has light brown skin, dark hair in a bun, and dark eyes. Kevin has light brown skin, a bald head, a salt-and-pepper goatee, and black-rimmed sunglasses. His son has light brown skin, dark eyes, and black hair with the sides shaved. Their t-shirts bear a logo that is a stylized hand holding a heart with the Texas and American flags and the text Heart of a Warrior Team Lopez.

In January 2023, I got to “meet” my original heart. It was such a cool experience. My old heart was sitting on a tray covered by a blue towel. The room was full with my kids, people from the hospital, and reporters from KDFW FOX4 in Dallas doing a follow-up story.

The pathologist uncovered my heart. It was sliced into sections to allow examination of both the inside and the outside. He went into great detail and explained everything about it, including all the scar tissue from all of the heart attacks I had experienced.

I was able to hold my heart in my hands.

Kevin Lopez looks serious and pensive as he gazes down at his old heart, held in his hands in blue medical gloves. His old heart is a gray-yellow color and larger than an orange. He appears to be in a hospital check-up style room. He has light brown skin, a bald head, dark eyes, a salt-and-pepper goatee, and black-rimmed glasses, and he wears a gray and white striped button-up short-sleeved shirt. He has a cobweb tattoo partially visible on his left elbow.

I thanked it for being so strong when I needed it the most. While everyone was talking and looking at the heart, I was just sitting there, looking at my heart on the tray, overwhelmed with emotions.

I felt so happy for this second chance, but I was also saying goodbye to my heart. It felt like mourning.

I kept those feelings to myself and just soaked in the experience.

Kevin Lopez is smiling with a resigned yet happy expression as he literally holds his old heart in his hand, hoisting it far above his head with his left hand while wearing a blue medical glove. The heart is yellow-gray and cut into slies but kept together with a band, and it is larger than an orange. He appears to be in a hospital check-up style room. He has light brown skin, a bald head, dark eyes, a salt-and-pepper goatee, and black-rimmed glasses, and he wears a gray and white striped button-up short-sleeved shirt.

Lesson 7: Don’t Judge by Appearances

One thing that might surprise people is how deceptive someone’s outside appearance can be following this kind of major procedure.

While it may feel like the right move to tell someone “You look great!”, keep in mind that on the inside, it may be a totally different fight for that person than what it looks like on the outside.

Remember that the transplant journey is the hardest thing most people will ever go through.

Everyone has a different journey. Be supportive and inspire people around you to care and get involved.

Two light brown hands come together to form a heart - beneath the hand heart is a red lit-up heart in the window of a hospital building. It appears to be dusk.

Lesson 8: Fundraising Could Save Your Life

A heart transplant doesn’t cure every health problem, but I can now envision myself excelling and thriving in the future thanks to the gift of this transplant.

I still live with 50% blindness in both my eyes from a stroke years ago. Anti-rejection medication also requires a lifestyle change that I will have to maintain for the rest of my life.

Along with transplant recovery comes so many costs not covered by my insurance. I am on disability from my employment, and with 2024 around the corner, the costs for medication and follow-up treatment are far more than my current income can handle.

I needed hyperbaric treatments, wound care, bloodwork, and more—in one case, my bloodwork was ordered from an “out-of-network” company, which left me with several thousands of dollars in out-of-pocket bills.

There are also supplies and equipment for home health care that have been prescribed for different aspects of transplant recovery—insurance does not fully cover these costs.

That is where Help Hope Live is invaluable for someone like me.

The daughter of client Kevin Lopez and a man holding a full glass of beer are standing outdoors in front of a fundraiser table with a

Prior to my own experience, I didn’t realize part of getting approved for a transplant is showing your support systems at home. That includes post-transplant caregiving, emotional support, and financial support.

I really believe there is a good possibility that I may not have been approved for a heart transplant at all without the opportunity to fundraise with Help Hope Live.

Kevin Lopez's son is standing behind a fundraiser booth that includes a large white and teal Help Hope Live banner with the website and text Charity Navigator Four Star Charity. On the table in front of him is a black tablecloth and a fake pine wreath with red Christmas tree decoration baubles plus some candy, brochures, and a Price List. Kevin's son has light brown skin, dark eyes, a Santa hat, a gray hoodie, and a blue t-shirt that includes a logo that is a stylized hand holding a heart with the Texas and American flags and the text Heart of a Warrior Team Lopez. The same logo appears on a large hanging banner alongside a QR code. The banner says Help Hope Live Medical Fundraiser In Honor of Retired Police Officer and Veteran Kevin Lopez.

Help Hope Live afforded me the opportunity to get the word out and fundraise without the worry of having to set up every detail myself.

Their medical fundraising is turnkey. The nonprofit status was a big selling point for us, because in my case, fundraising did not jeopardize the disability benefits I already receive.

Based on my experiences, becoming an Ambassador for Help Hope Live was an easy decision.

I wanted to help people in the way I was helped. I really want to impact others by motivating them, inspiring them through my own experiences, and helping them in a time that is so overwhelming.

Kevin Lopez is with a man in a hospital room taking a selfie as Kevin wears a goofy anatomical heart costume in blue, pink, and red. He has light brown skin, a salt and pepper goatee, dark eyes, and black-rimmed glasses. The man he is with has light skin, a brown and gray mustache and short beard, blue eyes, and a visible surgery scar extending to the neck of his hospital gown vertically from just under his neck. His hospital gown is light green.

I am proud to be associated with Help Hope Live.

I talk about my experiences and my fundraising support with as many people as I can. I am a very social person, so I will converse with people wherever I go. I am very active on social media and mention Help Hope Live every chance I get.

I am also still actively fundraising myself to pay my unpaid medical bills post-transplant.

Lesson 9: Life Is Worth the Fight

To me, hope means a future with my kids.

I have time with my son and daughter that I had already accepted we may not have together. So, every day I have now is a gift and a source of hope.

My advice for transplant patients waiting for their own gift is to trust the process and stay strong in your faith. It is a tedious process, but looking back, it was so worth it. Nothing in life is easy, as you already know, so take it one day at a time.

Reach your inner warrior and fight for life.

Two photos are separated by a thin light blue dividing line. In the first photo, a young Kevin Lopez gives a hang-loose sign with his right hand as he sits with another young man, both wearing service suits with short-sleeved collared and badged white shirts and navy pants. Both young men have light brown skin and short dark hair. In the second photo, Kevin is seated in a formal event dining room with his two children. His son has light brown skin, short dark hair, and glasses and wears a white collared shirt and formal black vest. Kevin wears a black button-up shirt and has light brown skin, a bald head, black-rimmed glasses, and a salt-and-pepper goatee. His daughter wears black formal attire and has light brown skin and center-parted black hair.

You can follow Kevin on his Campaign Page, on Instagram @heartofawarrior22, on Facebook @kevinshearttransplant, and on his website—don’t miss his new Bonfire design celebrating his first “heart-iversary”.

Written by Emily Progin