My name is Taylor Sang, and my dad, Charlie, received a second chance at life on January 3, 2021. In 2019, my dad was diagnosed with end-stage heart failure. Because of his many comorbidities at the time, he was not eligible for transplantation; dad received an LVAD (Left Ventricle Assist Device) after 11 days in the hospital. An LVAD is a mechanical external heart; a pump was put onto his heart and connected to two batteries by a drive line that went directly into his chest. With an LVAD, a patient doesn’t have blood pressure nor a pulse; the blood is continuously moved through the body. After receiving the LVAD, dad spent 51 days in the hospital, most of which were spent in the ICU (he had to have another emergency surgery a few days after he received the LVAD because fluid was filling the lining around his LVAD and compressing his heart). Dad’s brother traveled from California to a hospital in the Midwest to take care of my dad for each of those 51 days; my entire family owes an incredible thanks to my Uncle Henry; he saved my dad’s life and was the lifeline to the rest of the family in Kentucky while dad recovered.
Dad lived in the LVAD for 18 months. Because prospects of receiving a heart transplant at the hospital that provided the LVAD were so slim that dad would most likely die before receiving the call, dad got a second opinion at Vanderbilt Hospital in Nashville, TN. Leading up to this, I got engaged to the love of my life, but everything was so bittersweet because I didn’t want to plan a wedding that my dad wouldn’t be alive to see. Luckily, Vanderbilt was much more responsive than the first hospital; my family was put on high alert for a 30-day window a few days before Thanksgiving 2020; our hopes were so high for the holidays.
A few weeks before Christmas, dad got the call and rushed from Louisville, KY to Nashville. Upon dad’s arriving to the OR, the heart’s vitals and valves began being checked, and the doctors found that the organ was no longer viable. Though disappointed, we still had hope.
Two days later, dad received the call again. Dad rushed to Nashville with so much hope and anticipation to have a second chance. Upon arriving to the OR and being prepped for surgery, dad was administered a COVID-19 test, and he tested positive. Transplantation cannot occur when someone has an active infection, so dad had to come home, and we thought that our 30-day window was gone. Luckily, dad was completely asymptomatic, and Vanderbilt Hospital (due to the circumstances), granted dad the days off the Level 3 Priority List back.
On January 3, 2021, dad received a third call. Our entire family was incredibly anxious. 15 minutes passed after dad being taken to surgery, and we sighed a little bit of a relief because we knew the surgery was in progress. The surgery took about 6 hours, and the team at Vanderbilt were so accommodating; they kept us abreast on the doctors’ progress and dad’s condition throughout. Dad’s brother flew in from California again to be with dad. Because of COVID, I was not able to be with dad immediately after his surgery; I got to talk to my dad on the phone the day after he received the gift of life, and the first thing he said to me was, “I actually get to walk you down the aisle.” Dad spent 10 days in the ICU before being released to a condo in Nashville (medication after transplantation has to be carefully monitored to ensure the patient won’t experience organ rejection). The team(s) at Vanderbilt said dad was the best recovery they’d ever seen, and I have to believe a lot of that has to do with my dad’s incredibly hopeful attitude. Uncle Henry stayed with dad at the Nashville condo for three weeks until he drove him home back to Louisville and boarded a plane back to California.
Dad is doing so well- mentally and physically. We have so much to look forward to. Before dad’s transplant, we enjoyed holidays and moments together because there was a good chance that any given conversation could be our last. Now, we look forward to special occasions for the joy of knowing even more is to come.
Though we continue to celebrate dad’s second chance every day, the gravity of another family’s loss is by no means lost on us. We don’t know anything about the donor except that he was a 20-year-old male. As much as I’m overjoyed for my dad, I know a mother and father have to go to sleep sick every night because their son is no longer on Earth. Dad will have the opportunity to write a letter to the donor family in June 201, but writing, “thank you” feels like it devalues the gift of life we received and another family lost. Dad’s family and his friends think about and pray for the donor family everyday, if not every hour, and there aren’t sufficient words to write to a family who lost so much. I would move mountains for my dad, and I’m sure that if someone were selfless enough to become an organ donor, he or she must’ve been surrounded by selflessness, grace, and kindness in his or her life. The most sincere act of gratitude that my family can do (and is doing) is to speak on dad’s donor’s selflessness in the hopes that his act of incredible generosity will encourage others to register and save lives. Since dad’s journey began, my family became involved with Kentucky Organ Donor Affiliates and other organizations that promote donation. Our hopes are not only to give the gift of life to the 110,000 Americans waiting for a life-saving transplant but also to honor those who were selflessness enough to grant that wish.