On Christmas morning of 2015, I opened my eyes to begin a second chance at life after receiving a heart transplant at The Ross Heart Hospital. Through the incredible kindness and courage of an unknown donor and the skill and dedicated care by so many at The Ross, I had another opportunity to be a husband, brother, friend, athlete and so much more for the people I truly love in my life. Among the most important people there that special morning was my incredible wife Emily, my amazing brother Joe and wonderful sister-in-law Sharon.
Since that life-changing time, I have focused continually on how I could give back to donors and their families, my fellow transplant recipients and their families and the incredible caregivers and dedicated health care professionals at The Ross. Emily, Joe, Sharon and I are happy to announce the creation of the “Rita’s Corner of the World Fund” at The Ohio State University and The Ross Heart Hospital, a fund that will be dedicated to support the heart transplant program at Ohio State. This fund will focus on providing patient care to heart transplant patients as well as assisting in empowering Ohio State’s ongoing, world-class organ transplantation research.
Our family named this fund after Rita Leite, who was an incredible mom to Joe and I and someone who made an enormous difference in all of our lives. Despite many challenges throughout her life, Rita always prioritized making a difference for others and found many ways to give back to her community. The fund’s namesake is a direct result of a conversation I had with her many years ago, when she reminded me that people do not always have to do large acts of kindness to change the world. Mom said that “sometimes we all need to just focus on improving our own little corners of the world. If many people can do that, just think of how many corners we can assemble to create an amazing mosaic and a better world.” Her words have stuck with our family over the years, and the newly created Rita’s Corner of the World Fund is our collective attempt to improve the little corner of the world for heart transplant patients and families through quality care and breakthrough research.
Candidly, I never thought I would be talking about heart transplants and organ transplantation research that involved me personally. I was an avid runner and athlete, completing 154 marathons and participating in three Ironman triathlons. Life is very unpredictable, and my journey into the world of heart failure began in 2011 when I noticed a change in my running, as I was slowing down and starting to experience shortness of breath on my simple runs with my training group. Through the great work of cardiologists at Ohio State, an MRI revealed I had cardiomyopathy, a disease of the heart muscle that makes it exceedingly difficult for the heart to efficiently pump blood to the rest of the body. Obviously, this was shocking news to an athlete who prided myself on being constantly in good shape and taking care of myself.
After a few years of trying to treat my condition with medications and a pacemaker, my heart continued to get weaker, and I was placed on the heart transplant list through Ohio State in October of 2015. Emily and I were just married in April of 2015, so this news impacted us and our families and friends dramatically. Our waiting began, hoping I would become one of the lucky patients who received a magical call that my life could be saved through a heart transplant.
That incredible call came on Christmas Eve of 2015, as the amazingly talented team at The Ross told Emily and I that a heart became available, and we would be receiving the most incredible Christmas gift; a second chance at life. Joe, Sharon and my niece Megan flew to Ohio from their home in Texas that evening to be there for the transplant surgery, along with our dear friends Bill and Nan Burns. The people I love most in the world were the first to see me with my new heart.
Emily, Joe, Sharon and I all realize that not everyone on an organ transplant list is as lucky as us to receive that incredible gift of life. In the case of my new heart, we all realize the courageous and selflessness that my donor and their family possessed to provide me with the greatest gift I could ever receive. A life was unfortunately lost so I could live, and it is especially important to me that I be a good steward to that precious gift by taking care of myself (I have run two additional marathons since the transplant) and giving back to the amazing community who made this all possible.
Rita’s Corner of the World Fund is our small attempt to give back to the very large community that saved my life. It is meant to honor heart donors and their families, health care and hospital caregivers at all levels and those waiting on transplant lists. It is our hope that this fund will provide both needed patient services to heart transplant recipients at Ohio State along with funding to conduct crucial breakthrough research in organ transplantation. In dreaming a little, wouldn’t it be amazing if our new fund could help provide the needed resources that creates “a new little corner of the world” through research discoveries that allow all transplant recipients to receive their “miracle call” and have a second chance at life with their families?
That incredible research and patient care is going on right now at The Ohio State University’s Ross Heart Hospital. Emily, Joe, Sharon and I thank you for listening to my story and helping us give back to this amazing heart transplant and research community. We would be incredibly honored if you would join us in improving this important corner of our world by considering a donation to Rita’s Corner of the World Fund.