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Heart Failure, a Sudden Transplant, and My “Indescribable Peace”

John A Lee is a Help Hope Live client who received a heart transplant in November 2023. A husband and father of five, John works as the Principal and CEO of Konos Academy.  

John experienced sudden and life-threatening heart failure and a sudden heart transplant need. Through it all, he says he has felt “a peace that surpasses understanding.” This is his story.

Heart transplant recipient John A Lee in a hospital bed surrounded by his wife and five adult children. John has light skin, short dark hair, and a short gray beard. An overlay graphic reads Touched by Transplant with flowering green vines.

An Unexpected Calling

In 2012, I was working as a painting contractor and training for pastoral ministry with a plan to serve as the pastor for a local church.

Carol Thaxton, the founder and head of Konos Academy at that time, approached me and asked if I wanted to substitute teach for six weeks.  

I took the job, and I engaged with the 50 high school students Konos Academy had at that time. By God’s design, the supportive feedback I received from students and families during that short period was overwhelming and very powerful.  

I got the message that this was the field of ministry God wanted me to serve Him in.

The school board held a meeting and invited me to ask what I thought needed to be done.

As a father of five kids working for a tiny school that did not appear to be able to pay me, I didn’t give the feedback much thought—with my business background, I just shared what I saw as areas of improvement.  

That night, Carol Thaxton and her husband, Charles, sent me a job offer to start immediately.

I was shocked, but I felt I saw God’s hand in all of this. I accepted the offer and proceeded to build and grow Konos Academy. 

Heart transplant recipient John A Lee is pictured pre-transplant in an outdoor graduation photo for Konos Academy where he is principal and CEO. He is seated in the front row with his wife. There are about 30 young adults in graduation robes and caps. John has light skin, short dark hair, and a gray beard and he wears a suit. His wife has light skin, red lipstick, curly shoulder-length dark hair, and a white knee-length dress.

Over the next 10 years, we grew to 450 students in grades 1-12 and more than 40 teachers.

We moved from being housed in a church to purchasing our own building and land, and we were able to expand our team to include several key individuals. 

My wife, Joanne, took on a larger and larger role over time, serving as a teacher, drama instructor, director, and beyond.

We brought on a Konos father who had recently retired from a position at a local college, a graduate of the Air Force Academy in Colorado, and a Konos mom who came on full time to help with operations.  

These individuals were instrumental to the school’s prosperity and would be vital to operations if I were to be out of action unexpectedly.  

And that’s exactly what happened.

The Day Everything Changed

Though we were interested in moving, Joanne and I vowed that we would never consider moving during the fall when school kicks off and things become incredibly busy and stressful.  

However, in fall 2023, a house became available very close to the school, and we decided to move forward.  

October 12, 2023, was the day that we moved out of our house.

I led the moving process, rented a truck, and did much of the moving labor!  

I arrived at the lawyer’s office with the moving truck to execute the sale of the house we had just emptied, and as I hopped out of the moving truck, I experienced lightheadedness that I could sense was more serious than just a temporary state.  

I sat at the closing table, and I turned pale. We called medics to make sure all was well. 

The medics arrived. All was NOT well.

They ran many tests on me, and what they found led to me getting into the ambulance quickly. That’s when I had a heart attack. 

They got me to the hospital and were able to put a stint in my heart to stabilize me. I was quickly transferred to another hospital. 

I proceeded to code, and my body went through three instances of cardiac arrest.

Long story short, it became necessary to pursue a heart transplant.  

Heart transplant recipient John A Lee is in a hospital bed surrounded by his wife and five adult children. John has light skin, short dark hair, and a short gray beard.

I had no prior experience with transplants. However, from the moment I experienced the heart attack, I have had an indescribable peace and confidence being in the Lord’s hands. 

I was more concerned with how my family and the medical workers at the hospital were doing than how I was doing.  

I felt a peace that surpassed understanding.

On November 3, 2023, I received a new heart. My family rejoiced. We were all at peace knowing that God had brought all these events to pass.

The Power of Community Support

Throughout this time, the support of my family and friends was truly amazing – it even shocked many of the workers at my transplant hospital.  

We had an army present at the hospital with food regularly brought in, and even food to share with others who were also waiting for a loved one. Every night, I had a family member rotate in to stay with me. 

The support that me and my family received was legendary.

Heart transplant recipient John A Lee is pictured pre-transplant with his wife and three women and three men, including his five children. They are outside in a courtyard with palm trees and outdoor seating. All are dressed in summery clothing such as flowing floral dresses. John has light skin, short dark hair, and a short gray beard and he wears khaki shorts and sandals with a short-sleeved plaid button-up shirt.

My Heart Transplant Recovery Experience

I was out of the hospital by November 13. The recovery process has progressed miraculously, and my recovery since then has been strong and filled with encouragement.  

Before I was transplanted, I was on a unique machine that “cleaned” my blood and kept me alive. After the transplant, I was taken off the machine, and I noticed the decrease in my strength. However, I still felt very good after the transplant.  

In fact, even though the surgery left me with a 12” incision, I never felt any pain, and I didn’t take any medication for pain since I had no pain to medicate. It was truly amazing. 

Besides the scars, I have experienced some minimal memory loss (coming back slowly but surely).

My strength is still greatly diminished, though it is returning slowly as I heal.  

Because my immune system was suppressed dramatically to reduce the chances of my body rejecting the new heart, I have had to minimize my time spent on-the-job at the school—like all schools, a natural germ factory! However, I have not had to be totally absent from school during recovery.  

I hope to be back teaching in the classroom by the start of the next school year in September.

In an outdoor courtyard setting, John A Lee is pictured before his heart transplant with his wife. He has light skin, short dark hair, and a short gray beard and he wears khaki shorts and a plaid button-up short sleeved shirt. His wife has light skin, curly brown hair to her shoulders, hazel eyes, decorative circular gold earrings, and a two-piece summery outfit with white plant silhouettes on black breezy fabric.

Transplant Fundraising: A Critical Lifeline

We realized very early that we would be dependent on the Lord to provide in miraculous ways as we started to see the bills associated with my care and my need for a transplant.  

Now, we are working with Help Hope Live to raise funds to cover the ongoing medical and related costs of life after transplant.   

My brother and a friend are the ones who found and explored Help Hope Live, and they chose Help Hope Live because of all the safeguards that are in place for donors—including tax deductibility and preventions of abuse by individuals who fundraise.  

In comparison to Help Hope Live, we were not impressed with GoFundMe: there just were not enough safeguards in place to give donors confidence.

I believe the cost of transplantation is a little-known topic. More people should be aware of not just the cost of a transplant but also the existence of organizations like Help Hope Live that can help.  

Though we didn’t expect it to happen, through donations, we have been able to pay the hospital in full for the costs incurred during my procedure.  

Fundraising has removed a lot of financial stress for us, and it provides a way for others to help us.

There is also an element of emotional support, knowing you have help with the burden of large bills and obligations.  

It’s great to hear the stories of others who find success with fundraising like we did. It’s a way for more people to know that there is help out there that goes beyond dependence on big insurance companies and what they cover.  

Peace, Hope, and Faith

I am a Christian, and I love the Lord, His word, and His people. I believe my faith is a gift from God that is not created by me—and it has played a huge role in this journey, not just for me but for my family and community as well. 

Heart transplant recipient John A Lee is pictured pre-transplant in an outdoor courtyard setting with his two sons. John has light skin, short dark hair, and a short gray beard and we wears khaki shorts, sandals, and a plaid short sleeved button up shirt. Both of his sons have short styled dark hair, light skin, and dark eyes.

I recognize that God is the author of life and all that transpires in it. It is amazing to see what I can go through without any concern or anxiety. I attribute that to the faith He has provided that I have needed throughout this process. 

God has also greatly blessed our family, friends, and community as they watch Him work in and through my situation.  

In a photo at an outdoor restaurant seating area that is suffused with sunset golden light, heart transplant recipient John A Lee is pictured pre-transplant with his wife. John has short gray hair, a short gray beard, dark eyes, light skin, and a blue patterned short sleeved button up shirt. His wife has light skin, dark eyes, gold hoop earrings, curly brown hair to her shoulders, and a breezy pastel striped white short sleeved button up shirt.

To me, hope is looking forward with eager expectation to the reality of what awaits us in the next life with Christ. My hope is fixed on Him, who He is, what He has promised to those who love Him. My hope is in Jesus, the one who overcame death and the grave—the Son of God.  

John’s community has raised over $100,000 in his honor through Help Hope Live. Find John’s Campaign Page at

Written by Emily Progin