In August 2015, John “Skeeter” Coleman was diagnosed with end-stage heart failure. In October 2015, Skeeter and his family began fundraising with HelpHOPELive to prepare for a lifesaving heart transplant. This is the story of how Skeeter received his new heart.
I was the “best of the worst,” the doctors said when they put me on the heart transplant waiting list. They said I’d have a heart within seven days. Fourteen days later, they told me to “keep up the positive attitude.” They told me my heart was coming.
On the 21st day of waiting, a committee got together at the medical center to work out how to get me an LVAD as a bridge to transplant. No sooner had they convened, someone came into their meeting and said, “We just found a heart for Skeeter.” All the doctors I had worked with came running down to my room. I thought, “What is going on? This looks bad.” Then one of them came forward and said, “We found you a heart.” We hugged; it was a joyous moment.
The average wait time for a heart is about four months.
That night, the anesthesiologist came in with two orderlies to wheel me to the operating room. I said, “Let’s go. I’ve been waiting for this.” They took me to the elevator, and wouldn’t you know it, the bed got stuck and they couldn’t get it out! They kept trying and trying until I said, “This is crazy. Y’all just stop right here.” I got up, no shoes, no socks, rear end flapping in the breeze, and I said, “This is my last walk with this old heart. Leave that bed right there. We have a heart to transplant.”
They followed me right to the operating room. The doctors in the operating room were speechless, and then they all burst out laughing. That’s the last thing I remember before the operation.
The operation lasted six hours. When they brought me out into the recovery room, the doctor noticed I was passing a lot of blood, more blood than he had anticipated. They took me right back into the operating room, opened me back up, found a leak, repaired it, stitched me up, and I was put on a ventilator in the recovery unit for three days.
When I woke up, I couldn’t really move or see because of the anesthesia. All I saw was white. I thought I was dead. Then I heard a voice and the voice said, “Daddy!” It was my daughter’s voice.
“I can’t see you,” I said.
My daughter said, “It’s okay. You’re doing okay. But the Cowboys lost.”
And I said, “That’s terrible. But I’m alive?
She said, “Yes, you’re alive.”
Five hours later I came out of the anesthesia fully, and I was alive. It was just wonderful. All my doctors came back in and told me I was doing okay. I still had in my breathing tube. The next day, the doctor just reached over and ripped it right out and said, “Take a deep breath.” That was like a miracle. I could breathe again. It was the greatest feeling in the world.
My daughter walked into the room with a stethoscope. I don’t even know where she got that thing from. She said, “How would you like to listen to your new heart?” That was amazing, just sitting there listening to the new heart beat.
62,754 people have received heart transplants since 1988 thanks to organs from deceased donors.
Fundraising For A Heart Transplant
I stayed in the hospital for almost a month as they adjusted my meds and looked for signs of rejection. When I left the hospital, I was still getting blood drawn every week. I started a new medicine after a rejection scare that cost $1,000 out of pocket for one week’s supply–it wasn’t covered by medical insurance. That right there is why you need HelpHOPELive
Today, I still have to return to the hospital every three weeks for heart biopsies and every two weeks for med adjustments and blood tests. That’s where HelpHOPELive donations have been incredibly helpful, for medications and doctor’s visit co-pays that are out of pocket, plus the cost of transportation. I go to cardiac therapy three days per week and physical therapy three days per week.
You never know from day to day what expenses you will get hit with. In therapy, for instance, they may recommend a special sling that isn’t covered by insurance, so you have to buy it outright. It costs $100. Then they say, well, you’re going to need this other special piece of equipment, too. That’s another out-of-pocket expense. These expenses can add up to the point that they eat you alive.
Doctors may advise you to switch to different medications, or they may even double up on medications. Sometimes medical insurance only pays for a 30-day supply once a month, and they will not increase that to twice a month even if the doctors recommend it. Other times, you’ll get hit with a bill for something unexpected. I got a bill the other day for $38,675 for X-rays. You sit around and wait for answers, and you think, “How can I pay these bills? I can’t do it.” You just never know what’s coming. Insurance can’t pay for everything and neither can supplemental insurance. That’s why HelpHOPELive is important to me.
According to data from 2012, 76.8% of heart recipients are still living five years post-transplant.
“I’m Glad They Kept Me Alive”
My advice to others is to stay positive and get rid of negative people. Concentrate on making other people aware of all of the good things that organ donation can do. I’ve got a positive attitude, and I try to stay busy fundraising, managing my finances and doing my exercises. I’m looking forward to figuring out how I can help people to be more aware of organ donation and what it means to be willing to donate their heart.
I woke up today. I can breathe. I can walk. I’m alive. I’m healthy. I have friends like all of you.
I’m glad they kept me alive. Life is good. Here I am, and I can see the sun shining.
Follow our Blog to learn what happened when Skeeter met the wife and children of his heart donor!