Grateful Recipient

Bill Carlson

Transplant Recipient, Minnesota

  • Heart, June 8, 2009, University of Minnesota Health Transplant Services

A Road to Transplant: Roads are filled with bumps, potholes, curves, detours, and road closed signs. Just like the roads we drive on, so goes the road to transplant. This is my story of the long road I had to travel to survive.

I love helping the newbies through "The Transplant Zone."

I would like to introduce myself: my name is Bill Carlson, Veteran of the Vietnam war and retired Custom Cabinetmaker. I”m married to my High School sweetheart Naomi! I can now call her my caregiver. We have 3 daughters: Lisa, the oldest, Andrea,in the middle!, and Suzy, my little one, as I call her. Andrea and her husband Mike have blessed the world with a beautiful girl, Gabrielle (Gabby) who is full of life and a big handful just like her Mom! Suzy has blessed the world with two of the bestest dudes in the land! Preston the oldest and Parker the little one. Big P & Little P. Those two love baseball. Little League, that is.

My road starts way back in 1995 – that’s when I was first diagnosed with congestive heart failure (CHF). In most cases, CHF is very controllable with medication and possibly a pacemaker or internal cardiac defibrillator. In my case, it was a little more complicated. I had a side effect called Arrhythmic Angina.

A big word that meant my heart rate would not hold a steady rhythm – one minute it would start to climb for no reason, possibly up to 200 BPM, and then it would drop suddenly. This is where the pacemaker defibrillator comes into play. Getting a shock from that device is very similar to a horse kick, they say. Personally, I would take the horse any day.

As time went on there were many trips back and forth to cardiology. I was informed that at some point in time I would need a HEART TRANSPLANT!! What?? I kept telling myself, ‘I’m not that sick!’ My friends and family had a different outlook – to them it was more obvious. I kept plugging along feeling like I had lead shoes and it was getting harder and harder to do my job. The last firing of the defibrillator was about to take place.

I ended up at a smaller hospital after the horse (defibrillator) kicked me several times. I lost count after 7 times. In the Emergency room they were first guessing that I had a Arrhythmic episode but one doctor heard something he didn’t like when he listened to my chest. He suggested I be moved to the University of Minnesota Hospital ASAP. I do not remember the ambulance ride down there. After some testing they discovered failing valves in my left ventricle. Here is where the road gets full of potholes and detour signs! The valves had to be replaced that day. At this point in time my sweetheart Naomi was in full control, making all my decisions for me.

I was brought into the OR readied for surgery and when my chest was opened they found another bump in the road! A massive infection surrounding my heart. I was placed on mechanical support in the form of a Bi Vad (Bi ventricle assisting device) in the hopes of treating the infection. After 6 weeks being sedated and immobilized they took a chance and implanted a LVAD, an internal pump that would help my heart pump blood though out my body. Now the road gets bumpier! After 5 months, 2 open chest surgeries and a battery operated pump I get to go home! Not yet on a transplant list, I knew nothing about. In order for me to qualify to get listed for a transplant, I need to gain weight!! First time in my life a doc said I was skinny!! I also needed to get much stronger. Months in the hospital had taken its toll. But I was determined not to fail! After several months of gaining weight and and rehab I was finally listed.

Now some more curves in the road and a detour sign or two, I persisted. My call finally came on June 7th 2009 at 2230 hrs (10:30 for laymen). I was about to enter what you can call “The Transplant Zone!” A whole new road without a very good map to follow. I was transplanted overnight on June 7th of 2009. Actual date is June 8th. My life was saved by a total stranger who thought it might be a good idea to donate. I wasn’t used to this new feeling I had, I almost felt GOOD! This time, it was only a short stay in the hospital. Just 11 days after my transplant I walked out the front door on my own power! I was hoping the road would smooth out but I still had a couple of hills to climb! But not very high ones. After a few months and more rehab I started to feel almost human again! A new feeling for me.

I started to wonder who had just lost a loved one that had saved my life through donation. I found out I could write to the family and express my gratitude, so I took the chance that a total stranger may return my letter. It took a year and a half and several letters from me before I finally got that letter in return. I learned that a young man, Iraq war Veteran I might add, had donated his heart to me. I was so sad to learn that he had a young son at the time of his passing. And I thought my road was a rough one. I would thank this young man everyday when I woke up, and every time I did something that I had a hard time with prior to transplant. Like being able to climb more than 3 stairs at a time.

I have gone on to meet in person the mom and dad of my Hero, Tommy. I even got to meet his little boy. I just hope and pray that the road for this loving family is a smooth one, no potholes or big bumps. I try to honor my Hero in every way possible. May he rest in peace.

Where is this road taking me next? Well, I’ll tell you I’ve discovered volunteer work is really cool! I’m a LifeSource Donate Life Ambassador and speak about the importance of donation in schools, hospitals or anywhere else some one will listen! I also volunteer at the hospital where I get the opportunity to talk with people that are just looking for the map of where this crazy road to transplant begins! And on that note I would like to quote a well known great person, Mr. Red Skelton. “Good night and God Bless”

My eternal gratitude, Bill, Heart Recipient