PhoebeMD Blog COVID Health Heart TransplantFeatured Authors

Thirteen Years of Training For A Pandemic

By Don P. | Guest Contributor

On April 28, 2007, my life as I knew it came to an abrupt halt and turned 180 degrees. I had a massive heart attack that day, and a triple bypass surgery the following day. To really make my story special, I then flat-lined over a hundred times during the next twelve or so days, and followed that with a very high drama heart transplant and a five day stint on ECMO (Extracorporeal membrane oxygenation) and was conscious (to a degree) while on a ventilator—the single worst memory in my lifetime. (ECMO is a machine that is basically an artificial lung to oxygenate your blood while your lungs rest/heal).

A week after my heart transplant, I regained consciousness and started to rebuild my body and my life, and unbeknownst to me, I was placed in training for this coronavirus pandemic

Learning to Stay Healthy

With the heart transplant, I was given and still rely on a twice daily “cocktail” of anti-rejection medications (Cyclosporine and Mycophenolate Mofetil) which are used to “trick” my body to play nice with the foreign object (transplanted heart) that is beating in my chest and keeping me alive. These medications define me as immunosuppressed, and it has been drilled into me from day one that viral and bacterial infections and a host of other very negative things are very possible and could land me quickly back in the hospital (or worse) if I don’t pay attention.

I was taught how, when, and where I should wear a mask. I was taught and retaught the importance of frequent hand washing and the use of hand sanitizers. I was taught about “social distancing” long before it was ever a “thing”. I learned about my medications and the need to always manage them and take them on a timely basis. Over time, I watched, read, and listened to those I met while volunteering who had been on the transplant journey longer than I had. I paid attention, asked questions, took notes, and learned.

I learned how to open a door a dozen ways without using my hands. How to NOT touch random stuff in stores and public spaces. That you can get really sick by licking door knobs and hand rails (that’s a joke). To go to the movies when there is virtually no one there and to not be ashamed to move to a different seat if a cougher/hacker comes and sits behind you. I’ve also learned a great deal of restraint by not beating people with a baseball bat (yes, another joke) if they coughed or sneezed in my direction with NO attempt to cover or cough into their elbow (believe it or not, this still happens). I was trained in food and diet ….. the washing and handling of fresh fruits and vegetables. I follow a good heart healthy diet, and at various times I was placed on special diets, such as low sodium, low fat, low potassium, and diabetic diets.

Conquering Fears

There was also the psychological part that I had to learn to overcome. The fear of getting sick—of catching a virus. Over time, I’ve been through plenty of scares. I caught “Hand, Foot, and Mouth Disease” from my granddaughter. I’ve had a few infections that I had to battle. And I been through the H1N1 and Ebola scares. I was truly frightened during the Ebola event. Yet, my fears were unfounded, and I got through these events by listening to my medical team and to those that have proceeded me on this journey…and I survived. If anything, I learned that common sense is needed and that we must use it always—especially during a pandemic.

I’ve learned to listen and to know by body well. For the past 4,750+ days, I have taken and recorded my weight, temperature, and my blood pressure at least twice a day. I can “sense” I’m getting sick before I have a fever; a slightly elevated temperature and blood pressure means that “something” is brewing. And I’ve been taught how to react quickly to these physical changes. I’ve got 7 different phone numbers on my phone’s contact list if I need to instantly reach out to any part of my medical team.

COVID-19 & Your Health

Early on during this pandemic, there was a lot of “BS” in the media and from the government about not using masks…that masks were needed PPE (Personal Protective Equipment) for medical professionals only. In my opinion, at the time, this was false information and designed due to a mask shortage. We were using masks because I had been trained to do so. I weighed what was being said by a bunch of “talking heads” against what I was trained to do by the number one heart hospital in the world (Cleveland Clinic). After over a month of this craziness, the politicians and their media did an about face and instructed all of us to make and wear our own masks. Bottom-line: wear your masks folks; it helps!!

Also, over the past few months, if you’ve been paying attention, you’ve heard about the ventilator shortage and the use of ECMO on the sickest of the sick COVID-19 patients. Turned out the “experts” were, thankfully, wrong about the shortage. And, from my own experience, if you need to go on ECMO or a respirator, I will keep you in my thoughts and prayers. For me, it was a terrifying experience, to be conscious and on that machine. Unable to communicate, my throat was beyond raw and a constant feeling of dying of thirst prevailed.

So, while the rest of the world has been catching up, many of us have already been through this type of training. So, to conclude:

  • Use common sense
  • Wear your mask
  • Wash or use hand sanitizer liberally
  • Don’t touch “stuff” 
  • Try to not touch your face
  • Stay away from sick people!!

Author Bio

don (2)

Don is a heart transplant recipient and who currently resides in Ohio. His inspirational blog, My 2nd Heartbeat, details his amazing health journey. Now retired, he worked in management for over 38 years for a large industrial company. For the past 12 years, Don has been volunteering with the Heart Transplant Team at the Cleveland Clinic.


If you would like your story to be considered for publication on, click here for more information. 

9 replies »

  1. Powerful perspectives and of course, thank you for all you do. Having Cystic fibrosis and creating a blog for those with health conditions, this really hit home for me.

  2. Wow! So inspiring! Thanks for sharing.

    On Mon, Jun 8, 2020 at 2:04 PM Phoebe, MD: Medicine + Poetry wrote:

    > Phoebe, MD: Medicine + Poetry posted: “By Don P. | Guest Contributor On > April 28, 2007 my life as I knew it came to an abrupt halt and turned 180 > degrees. I had a massive heart attack that day, and triple by-pass surgery > the following day. To really make my story special I then flat-lined o” >

We welcome you to share...