365 Days of Thanks.

Writer’s block can be defined as: “the condition of being unable to think of what to write or how to proceed with writing.” For the past few weeks I’ve stared at a blank document, trying to describe the last year with coherent sentences and adequate words. I would blame my lack of progress on a dreaded case of writer’s block, close my laptop and walk away. It has been frustrating, angering and upsetting to not be able to express how I feel in words, to lack the ability to tell the story I possess inside of me. In the past weeks I’ve realized that the true reason I have been unsuccessful is the fact that I feel too much. I feel too many emotions to simply summarize into a short written piece. I have learned too much in the past year to even try to explain to another individual. But I guess we all have to start somewhere.

One year ago to this exact day I was surrounded by some of my best friends in my quaint hospital room, catching up on all things exciting and stressful in their lives. I was ecstatic to have visitors that so easily distracted me from my daunting reality of waiting. It was during those visits that I felt completely normal. It was during those visits that I saw a bright, positive ending to the complete and utter darkness I was living. One year ago to this exact day my visit was interrupted by the long awaited news that a perfect donor heart had become available and that surgery would begin later that night. One year ago to this exact day my life completely changed.

But see I felt guilt, I felt heartbroken because I knew, and I still know, that one year ago this exact day, a family somewhere in the country was saying goodbye to a loved one. A year ago to this exact day a family was surrounding their loved one, just like mine was surrounding me, but in their situation they were saying a final goodbye. As that family was mourning, they saved my life along with the lives of many others. Organ donation is utterly beautiful. I can only hope the family knows how truly and deeply that day changed my life. I know one year ago to this exact day, the lives of that entire family were changed.

The hours to follow were a complete and total whirlwind. I was being prepared for surgery, my entire family came to visit me and reminded me how loved I truly am, my phone exploded with well wishes and excited messages from friends and even strangers, my stomach churned with anticipation and only a small amount of nervousness. I just kept telling myself that in a few hours I would be normal again, I would be on the road to living life better than ever before, in a few hours I would be one large step closer to going home. I was wheeled away from my parents and into the operating room. As I waited for the anesthesia to kick in, I said a prayer to myself and reminded my eager mind that when I woke up, my life would really be beginning.

I don’t remember much post- surgery. I could not open my eyes but I could hear the voices of all my loved ones talking to me, telling me that everything was great, that my surgery was done and that most importantly, I had my new heart. I had never felt healthier than I did in that moment, for a wave of relief washed over me and I was actually excited. I knew a long road of recovery was ahead and that my life was going to be changed forever, but deep down I knew that the hardest part was over, I could truly accomplish anything. I made it my mission to do just so.

The months following were easier than I thought. I was feeling great, amazing, much quicker than I had ever anticipated. I made it home to my house just 12 days after my surgery and instantly resumed my normal life of socializing, spending time with my family and most of all, living. I wanted to prove to myself, and to those around me, that I was more than okay, I was great. And I did just that. I returned home in May and had a wonderful summer of doing whatever I wanted. I spent time in the pool, I worked, I made plans to continue my academic career, I was thriving.

When I look back on the first few months post-transplant, I realize just how truly mistaken I was. Yes, I was healthy, with perfect results from every test and biopsy. Yes, I was happy, elated to be living my life better than ever before. But I was completely wrong when I thought the hard part was over. I should’ve known that the emotional toll of my long journey would catch up with me. In fact, I think I did know, I just dreaded the day I would actually let myself accept all that happened. When it did, it hit me like a ton of bricks.

Death is an extremely hard concept to grasp. It’s even harder to grasp that I was once extremely close to it. It’s hard to conceptualize just how sick I was and just how dependent I was on the mechanical device that was pumping my heart for five months. It is tragically beautiful to understand that a stranger died and I was able to live. I struggle everyday knowing that I, a girl who was once petrified of hospitals, lived in one for five long months. It is frightening to know that I, someone once afraid of doctors, underwent seven life-saving surgeries. It is easy for me to only live in the positive times because there is an unmeasurable amount of miracles and experiences in which I encountered during the last 365 days. But I’ve realized that I can’t just push away the bad. The bad isn’t something I want to talk about. It isn’t something I want brought up in a conversation, but it is a major part of who I am. It is what made me brave, it is what made me appreciative, it is what made me alive.

One year ago I was preparing to enter an intense and life-saving surgery. Now, here I sit, 365 days later. Once again I am surrounded by my loved ones. I am preparing for my new start at a new school come the fall, I am occupying my time doing things I love with people I love, I am thriving. I know that the more time that passes, the further away this all will feel. The past twelve months flew by in the blink of an eye, despite the fact that my life changed with every given second. I cope with the struggles that come along on this journey, I thank God every single day and I hold my donor and their family so close to my heart. 365 days ago I was given a second chance at life. I was given an opportunity to inspire, to live my dreams, to laugh, to love and to enjoy every second I gained.

I don’t want to be defined by my situation. I don’t want to be known for my surgery, for the battle that I overcame. Instead I want to be known for my story. I want to be known for what came out of that extremely dark time and how those moments built me into the person I am today. I struggle greatly when thinking about the person I was before all of this. There were a long 19 and a half years of my life where I never once worried about taking medications, doctor’s appointments, if I was going to be okay or about my health at all. There were a long 19 and a half years that I spent building character and finding myself. There was a girl before all of this who I don’t want to be anymore. I like who I am, I like being brave, I like being strong and I like being courageous. I love the story that I have to tell.

Many people told me that the first year would be the hardest. Without a doubt, I agree. It was a year of uncertainty, a year of firsts, a year of adjustments and a year of major changes. But it was a year of so many lessons. I learned more about myself and the world than I could ever imagine. I learned how loved I am and how important life is. Life is so much more than grades on an exam, striving to be perfect, finding a job, graduating college- life is about living. I definitely won’t be skydiving or climbing a mountain any time soon, but I will be living in my own way and loving every minute of it. To me, living is cherishing my loved ones, living is getting a chance at tomorrow and loving every second of it. To me, life is feeling my healthy heartbeat every day and the immense gratefulness that comes along with that. 365 days ago so much has changed, including myself, but one thing is for certain, I’m still following my heart.

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For more information about Organ Donation, or to sign up to be a donor, visit: https://www.donatelife.net

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