National Donate Life Month: New heart gives Bar Nunn man a second chance
By The Pulse Apr 1, 2015
Written by Jason Wynia, heart transplant recipient
When I started feeling sick in May 2009, I was the typical stubborn male and denied there was truly a problem. I thought I had a bad cold that was just dragging itself along at a snail’s pace. It wasn’t until I could not complete a walk around the block with my dog that I really took notice.
When I began to have trouble breathing, I knew there was something more serious. I still did not want to go to the doctor, but I was having trouble getting simple tasks done at work. The doctors, over a period of a few weeks, were confused with a new strain of pneumonia going around and tried several medications to no avail. When my wife woke up and heard me wheezing and struggling for air, she forced me to get a different opinion from a specialist.
With a new diagnosis of congestive heart failure at the age of 35, I walked into the Emergency Room of Wyoming Medical Center with a heart working at 10 percent. I could barely breathe and had a resting heart rate of more than 160. As nursing staff scrambled to get me in a wheel chair, into a bed and under treatment, my journey really began.
I had plenty of time to think at WMC - nearly two weeks. Over the previous two months, I had nearly stopped eating, grew weaker and could barely walk to the bedroom or bathroom without having to take breaks to breathe. I got to the point where even talking was completely exhausting. During the first week, Dr. John Pickrell said an LVAD (Left Ventricular Assist Device) - better known as a heart pump - was an option. Our understanding was that this pump could allow the heart to recover. In the second week, Dr. Michel Skaf advised that I needed a transplant. I was shocked that in one week I went from fixing my heart to having to change out the whole "engine." I took medications to stabilize my body for transport to a transplant center, but not knowing what or how a transplant would affect my life was unnerving.
What happened to the guy who could stay awake for hours working double shifts for weeks on end? Where was the man who could move heavy objects without help? Was this the end for me? Was I really dying a slow death? I had never been real sick or ever had a broken bone. The scariest thing was going to the dentist to pull out some teeth.
I was flown to Intermountain Medical Center in Salt Lake City on June 24, 2009. Five days later, I got worse and had my first surgery to install a heart pump to keep me alive until transplant. Nine months of doctor visits, cardiac rehab, a healthier lifestyle and the LVAD prepared me for the transplant on March 1, 2010.
Five years later, I am alive and doing well. I went back to school to complete my bachelor's degree in business. I cooked a meal for my grandparents for the first time - and they LIKED it! I have spent time with my new nephews and nieces. I have a new transplant family; five heart brothers and a heart sister, an awesome cardiac nurse, two great surgeons, numerous doctors and nurses in the heart clinic and a super team in the cardiac rehab center.
Having a second chance at life has meant the world to me. I never gave donation a thought before I got sick. After recovering from the transplant and knowing that a complete stranger made a conscious choice to become an organ and tissue donor has change my life. I now understand the importance of organ and tissue donation and that sharing my story may one day help save the life of another as my donor saved me.
I returned to work, currently full-time for Natrona County School District and part-time for the City of Casper. My wife, Misty Wynia, and I have built a new home. We continue great friendships and make new friends with neighbors in Bar Nunn. I am able to work on the landscape and have started to finish our basement which I love to do since working for Capri Homes in 2007. I have realized that I don’t have to live to work, but I work so I can enjoy life.
We have taken couple's vacations to Devils Tower, Mount Rushmore, Glacier National Park, and gone to baseball, football and hockey games. My limitations are only in my head.
The best thing that came from my transplant journey is that I have become a volunteer for Intermountain Donor Services and Donor Alliance for Donate Life. I have been able to bring information to the public about organ and tissue donation. I have talked to dozens of patients and their family both pre- and post-transplant to explain what the process entails from the patients viewpoint. My wife has joined me in volunteering and explains the role of the caregiver during the transplant journey. This is the best way we feel we can honor the memory of my donor.
The Department of Health and Human Services has awarded Wyoming Medical Center a Gold-level Recognition for its National Hospital Donation Campaign. The award is given "for encouraging hospital staff and community members to enroll in their state registry as organ, eye and tissue donors."
April is National Donate Life Month. Here are two ways to get involved:
- Become a donor: Stop by the Donate Life Wyoming information booth throughout April and learn the facts about organ and tissue donation. They also have brochures explaining how to become a donor. The booth is located in the Sky Lobby on the second floor of our McMurry West Tower. Learn more at www.donoralliance.org
- Sign up for the 5K: Help us raise awareness for organ and tissue donation at the Donate Life Wyoming run/walk on April 25 at the Sunrise Shopping Center. Registration begins at 7:30 a.m. with a balloon release at 8 a.m. Go to www.runsignup.com and search for Wyoming in the “Find a Run” link.