Sometimes A Broken Heart Can Yield the Greatest Love

My story simply embodies the will to live and how the strength of an individual's mind and spirit can overcome any physical challenges. Not everyone is born with fully functional body parts however this doesn't preclude us from living our lives to its fullest potential.Genetically a person is supposed to be equipped with three properly working leaflets on the aortic valve to assist the flow of blood to and from the heart. In most cases my situation is no big deal. However my abnormality posed a serious threat when the doctor noticed an abscess about roughly the size of a pea growing dead smack on one of my heart valves. This meant I had to undergo an immediate heart valve transplant. Luckily for me I was able to locate a replacement valve donated by a cadaver or deceased person, and the transplant proved to be a success. The only apparent down turn to the whole procedure was the the newly replaced valve would carry a life span of 7 to 14 years. Which meant my days here on earth had now just been numbered. For any 22 year old this is certainly no music to the ears!Because the hour glass of my life had now been turned over, I found myself in the position where I had to make my first real tough decision. I figured I could either create a funk for myself to live in as I waited for the day my heart would expire. Or I could choose to maintain a positive attitude while keeping myself healthy. Thank God I decided to choose the latter.To booster my health I decided to take up a career in the fitness industry.  I prided myself on eating right as well as staying away from drugs and alcohol.  In my spare time several friends of mine and myself would venture off riding bikes. At that time, I would have to say at 170lbs I was probably in one of the best shapes ever. In other areas of my life, I had just recently got married and even though I didn't have any children, my life still felt pretty much complete. But I have often heard every good thing or moment does not last forever. And so it was, a year into my marriage, 6 1/2 years after my heart valve surgery, I felt my first sign of death.One afternoon my friends and I were riding our bikes on this bike trail we had completed many times before. I was pedaling up a hill I have always rode up with a fair amount of ease.  However this time was very different.  I found myself struggling to make it up to the top. I mean the pedaling had grown so intense that I had to literally get off my bike and walk it up the rest of the way.  Just imagine with the "you can't give up" type of friends I have- this was not an easy moment for me. But I knew deep down inside there was something severely wrong.  And I was eventually right. Shortly thereafter my health began to decline rapidly. All my internal organs started to slowly shut down and in two months I found myself 40lbs over weight.Now my wife was well aware of my past heart valve transplant. However because we were newly weds neither of us were prepared to stare death in its face. We would much rather enter into a state of denial than to assume the worse.  Moreover none of the local doctors could figure out exactly what was going on so we both thought it best to assure ourselves my heart was perfectly fine. Unfortunately it wouldn't be to much longer before this state of denial would run its course. Sometime in July of '07, my brain also started to fail me. I could not eat nor sleep for almost 2 weeks straight.  As a result I was in and out of hallucinations. I remembered having these strange feelings in my gut that something bad was soon going to happen. One night in particular my spirit had grown so overwhelmed with fatigue that I just knew I was not going to wake up once I fell asleep. I kept thinking about those rare but ever so scary stories about how someone drops dead out of the no where because he or she didn't know they had a preexisting heart condition or that they knew but couldn't afford proper treatment. The anxiety attached to these thoughts lead me to call up my best friend. To relieve some of my fears he ended up coming over and spent the night while my wife was out traveling for work. Although I did not tell my wife about these uncomfortable moments, it was like she already knew. Whereby a few days after her return home she decided to take me to the emergency room at TUFTS Medical Center. During the drive to the hospital, my wife and I had concluded we were now about to enter a very scary phase in our lives. The uncertainty had finally caught up with us and ignited our fears. Three hours after what should had been a hour drive (minus the traffic), we finally pulled up to the parking garage located approximately 30 feet away from the front corridor of the hospital. I was so weak and sick that I found myself laboring just to put one foot in front of the other. After approximately 30 minutes I arrived at the entrance of the Medical Campus.Once inside, the first thing and perhaps the most memorable moment of my whole experience at the hospital was amazingly the variety of smells permeating the air from the foods being prepared there in the cafeteria. The smells were so distinct and enticing that after nearly 2 weeks of not eating I adamantly refused to take another step more until I ate something. It was like I had become this radical death row inmate demanding or invoking his "last meal rights" as if food had just become the primary issue of importance. Anyways, after a few small nibbles of toast, eggs and home fries, we immediately headed over to the cardio vascular unit. Within minutes after examining me and feeling the pulse in my neck the cardiologist diagnosed me with stage 4 heart failure. Unbeknownst the heart valve from my previous surgery had died out and I was retaining excess amounts of fluid around my heart. The prognosis of my condition suggested that 9 out of 10 people would have already died and went to heaven. Luckily for me I fell in that 1% bracket. The cardiologist at the Boston Medical Center went on to further explain that the failing of the rest of my body's' organs were the result of my heart condition. And that had I underwent any anesthetic surgery to fix or remove any of these organs, I would have died instantaneously. I was very taken back by this information because some of the local doctors I frequented had made these very same suggestions. It just goes to show how you can never be to sure of the advice you are receiving and how you should always seek different opinions whenever you are feeling uncertain about something or if a particular situation is progressively getting worse.In any event, my heart condition required I be admitted to the hospital despite my overwhelming desire to be home. Treatment began immediately. First I was given dire actives to help rid the 40 to 50 lbs of fluid around my heart. Of course this sent my bladder into overload. Although I had to urinate what I felt was like every two seconds, this procedure had to be done before the doctors could operate. While waiting for surgery it was very important to me to keep a very positive attitude toward the process even though their was an uncertain journey ahead.  That afternoon before I was going into my surgery I was writing down a bunch of my goals I wanted to do one day:

  •       Be a great father some day and husband
  •       Be more involved in our community
  •       I wanted to do an Iron Man

What is iron man is a 2. 4 mile swim, bike 112 miles, and you finish with a marathon run of 26.2 miles.  I called one of my buddies who has completed an Iron man and I told them I want to do it as well.  He knew my heart conditioned and he asked me if I was absolutely freaking nuts.  He told me  you jusst need to get through your heart surgery and then worry about living let alone doing the iron man!

After I woke up from surgery, the first thing I told my wife, I want to do the iron man.   I was heavily drugged at the time and she told me I was out of my mine and that I need to rest. That afternoon I was required to walk for my daily excercise.  The first day I walked one lap approximately 40 feet.  The second day was two laps and the third day was three laps.    I was in the hospital for 11 days and I got myself up to 11 laps a day and that was my start to the iron man!  I had the dead valve replaced with a mechanical heart valve. We decided to go with a mechanical over a tissue replacement because the robotic valves can last up to 30 years given no blood clots were to form. The doctors prescribed me anti coagulation medicines to prevent my blood from clotting and instructed I would have to be on these medications for the rest of my life. Even though I did not like the idea of having to be dependent on prescription drugs I was and still am willing to do whatever is necessary to stay alive. Eleven days after my surgery I was released from the hospital.

Today I am happy to be present and to be healthy. Its has not always been easy getting through the days knowing in the back of my mind the hour glass is still turned over and that any day I could experience the nightmare of sequences I previously encountered. However I choose not to let these thoughts or fears dictate how blessed I am just to have what we call Today as no one is truly promised tomorrow. So I take nothing for granted. In fact I live my life to the fittest as a testimony to others that our lives should not be determined by our physical limitations but rather on the strengths of our minds and how we choose to live with our disabilities. It is because of these principles and resilience I have become the proud owner and founder of Highpoint Fitness LLC. A company that works closely with others to ensure all their fitness goals are met. It is our core belief that if a person survives two major heart surgeries and can successfully complete and become one of the top fund raisers at an Ironman event, which is a 2.4 mile swim; 112 mile bike ride; and a 26.2 mile marathon run. Than we believe anybody can do it!In addition, my accomplishments since my surgery have gone on to win me several awards and recognitions. My 2010 fundraising efforts earned me the New Hampshire Conservation Hero Award along with a commendation from the Governor of NH, John Lynch. I have also earned one of the only twenty-five Medtronic Global Awards. I have been named a WMUR Hometown Hero and have recently this year been given the title of one of the Union Leaders for the 40 and under. A program that recognizes emerging leaders with a record of professional and volunteer accomplishments in New Hampshire. All of these awards and recognitions have helped me to understand the true value of life and the importance of making a difference in the lives of others. It motivated me to become an official member of the Ironheart Racing Team. A group of athletes competing in endurance races across the globe while raising awareness for healthy heart living and congenital heart diseases. Since joining the Iron heart Team I have become the Northeast Regional Captain and have been able to coordinate the first Iron heart Classic 5k in New Hampshire. My hard work and dedication to the cause of healthy living has helped open the door for myself and 6 others to be featured in an upcoming documentary. The documentary which will be aired in 2013, will entail the extraordinary efforts of seven athletes with heart issues preparing for the world's toughest single day endurance event- the 2012 Ford Ironman triathlon in Temple, Arizona. Surely I have and continue to set and accomplish amazing feats. Achievements that I'm really proud of. However I believe my greatest accomplishments thus far and even going forward is the inspiration I have been able to provide others to tackle their fears and reach their goals. Because despite the two attempts to fix my heart, its this insurmountable joy I get witnessing others begin to believe in themselves that truly makes my heart complete. Thanks for reading!





Tom Gauthier's picture

Thanks, Jeremy, for a really inspiring story. Your story really moved me--I understand the denial part, but that you could turn everything around and really make a difference, not just to yourself but to others as well is a real inspiration. Keep up the great work! I look forward to seeing your documentary. Tom in Milwaukee