This is my first post on my new self-help book

Okeke cropped

Original art by Alberto Morackis

The Man Who Lived Without a Heart

Who is more qualified to talk about the meaning of life, than someone who came close to losing his two times? Charles Okeke received his first heart transplant on September 24, 1996 when he was only twenty-eight years old. He resumed normal life until he started feeling bad in 2008. His body was rejecting the

Transplanted heart and Charles was slowly dying.

A replacement heart was not available.

The process of trying to stay alive brought Charles to question the purpose of life…here is his story in his own words…

 

I was born in Nigeria in 1966. When I was six months old my father left Africa to come to the United States. He was a teacher, and my mother was a nurse. While my father was away, my mother, my sister and I went through the Nigerian-Biafran war. Maybe I was four or five. I still remember my terrified mother running with me on her back, almost falling into a well. We made it through the war and came to the United States in 1974.

My first heart attack was September 1995. The story behind this is nuts. I was twenty-eight years old, working out two to three hours a day. I closed the gym every night. I even considered bodybuilding competition. After my work out I came home, made something to eat, and dozed off. Something inexplicable woke me up and I started to sweat. A heart attack was the furthest thing from my mind. Even in my hardest workout, I’d never perspired so much. The following week I felt pain in the tips of my fingers and my toes. When I went to the doctor he said, “Don’t worry about it

The following January I went to Mardi gras with a girlfriend. There was a gym nearby and, one morning, I got up and wanted to work out. When I got there, two guys were working on the bench press and I asked if I could work in with them. When I started pumping iron, I felt so p and go back to where we were staying. On the walk back all I could think of was, “Lord, don’t let me die on this street.”

When I got back, there was a party going on.  I had totally run out of steam and went upstairs to the bedroom and lay down. People were coming in and throwing their coats on top of me. It was the most bizarre scene. One guy made a wisecrack, “Man, what’s his problem. The party hasn’t even started.” They kept throwing their coats on me until they covered my head and entire body. I could hear them talking when they were leaving but I was too weak to speak. Afterward, I told my girlfriend that I thought that I had pulled a muscle and I was having spasms. Someone thought my problem might have been caused by my liver, so they started giving me Doan’s liver pills. All night I kept taking the Doan’s pills and by the next morning I felt great. We went out and had a great time at Mardi gras.

My first admission to the hospital was May 17, 1995. Here I was, this twenty-eight-year-old bodybuilder in incredible shape and the nurse asks me, “What drugs are you taking?” I come back in her face and say, “Why the hell are you asking me about drugs—you guys have all the blood work.” The next thing I know, I’m on a table with someone hovering over me. I looked up at the clock on the wall and it was 7:30 in the morning. I asked the guy, “How much longer is it going to take? I’ve got to be at work in two hours.” He says, “You aren’t going anywhere—you’ve had a major heart attack.” It was the first time I’d heard the words heart attack and asked, “What the hell are you talking about?” They showed me the X-rays of my heart; my arteries were 90 percent blocked. For a year we tried treating it with medicine but I became weaker and weaker. I was slowly dying.

My sister is a physician and she noticed that something was wrong and immediately arranged for me to be evaluated for a second heart transplant. My previous heart failed when my own antibodies attacked it. At first I went to Shea Medical Center in Scottsdale, but they didn’t have transplant capabilities. They transferred me to Mayo Clinic where I was put on “Big Blue” a 400 pound mechanical heart machine. I was hooked up with an eight-foot cord from September 2009 to May 2010. That is how I lived my life. You pass the time in whatever way you have to. It tests your patience to no end but ultimately it all comes down to your support system. My strategy was to meet as many people as I could in order to make my life in the hospital as normal as possible. Some of those people have remained friends until this day.

The doctor said that I could do whatever my body would allow. My family brought in my dumbbells and I started lifting, doing pushups and dips, and practicing yoga while attached to the heart machine. I did whatever I could. I also had time to question everything, most important what is the purpose of being here at all.

After almost six hundred days on “Big Blue,” a company called SynCardia developed a small, 13-pound portable heart called the Freedom Driver. It connects to the artificial mechanical heart by two tubes that ran through my abdominal wall. I could finally sleep in my own bed. I lived on the Freedom Driver for 263 days. I must have been hospitalized five or six times while I was on the device. I was on the portable heart for ten months until I got my second human heart transplant on January 2012. My previous heart failed when my own antibodies attacked it. At first I went to Shea Medical Center in Scottsdale, but they didn’t have transplant capabilities. They transferred me to Mayo Clinic where I was put on “Big Blue” a 400 pound mechanical heart machine. I was hooked up with an eight-foot cord from September 2009 to May 2010. That is how I lived my life. You pass the time in whatever way you have to. It tests your patience to no end. Ultimately it all comes down to your support system. My strategy was to meet as many people as I could in order to make my life in the hospital as normal as possible.

The doctor said that I could do whatever my body would allow. My family brought in my dumbbells and I started lifting, doing pushups and dips, and practicing yoga while attached to the heart machine. I did whatever I could. I also had time to question everything, most important what is the purpose of being here at all.  After almost six hundred days on “Big Blue,” a company called SynCardia developed a small, 13-pound portable heart called the Freedom Driver. It connects to the artificial mechanical heart by two tubes that ran through my abdominal wall. I could finally sleep in my own bed. I lived on the Freedom Driver for 263 days. I must have been hospitalized five or six times while I was on the device. I was on the portable heart for ten months until I got my second human heart transplant on January 2012.

If you ever stop to think about it, life can change in a split second. Most days nothing happens. One particular morning, doctor Arabia[1] came in and said that my antibodies were so high that I might be on this machine forever. That was on Thanksgiving Day. Then, at five o’clock the same evening, he comes back and says, “I think we have a heart for you.” I’m all puffed— like are you kidding me. I’m as excited as you can be. Then they started getting me ready; I had nothing by mouth for twelve hours before the scheduled surgery. Then, Dr. Arabia and his crew went out and took one look at the heart and decided that it was not the one for me. It happened to me again on Christmas day. Ironically, it seems that it was only on the holidays when they could find a donor. Mayo requires a two-week protocol required for potential transplant recipients. I had a catheter in my neck. They take blood out of you, remove the antibodies, heat it    To read the rest of Charles Okeke’s story and discover the incredible life lessons that he learned go towww.uncommon-wisdom.com or look for Uncommon Wisdom: The Inspiring Lessons of 12 Extraordinary People on line at Amazon books.

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[1] Dr. Francisco Arabia, a leading coronary specialist at the Mayo Clinic in Scottsdale, Arizona