By AMERICAN HEART ASSOCIATION NEWS
Quadruple bypass surgery at age 39 and a heart attack nine years later left Jerry McCann unsure what his future would hold.
Aided by an implanted defibrillator, Jerry forged ahead. Later, he battled high blood pressure, dizziness and fatigue. Doctors diagnosed congestive heart failure, yet another blow.
“I was able to do less and less,” he said.
In 2011, Jerry was on a heart transplant waiting list and then was placed on a left ventricular assist device, or LVAD, which is surgically implanted to help the heart pump blood through the body. Sometimes the mechanical devices are temporary until a heart transplant occurs. But sometimes they are permanent.
“That was a really hard decision for me because I did not want to be alive because of a machine,” he said.
Others knowledgeable about LVADs helped. One woman put it in perspective by explaining, “We just have to realize that we’re on God’s time, not our own.”
For almost two years, Jerry remained tethered to the device’s 15-foot cord and base unit at night and moved around with a battery pack during the day. His wife, Margaret, replaced the dressing of his incision every day.
Jerry had led an active life. He was a restaurant manager for years and in mid-life became a mechanic at a golf course. He is also a motorcycle enthusiast. But the McCanns refrained from traveling while he was on the transplant list. They needed to stay near the hospital in case a donor heart became available.
One night in July 2014 the phone call came. Jerry was told to get to University of Wisconsin Hospital right away for his transplant.
Surgery began early the next morning, lasting more than 10 hours. He emerged with a new heart – and a new life ahead.
“I’m just extremely grateful to have a second chance on life,” he said.
Margaret, describing the aftermath of her husband’s transplant, recalls a phrase the hospital employed to celebrate the 50th anniversary of its transplant program: “Hope, meet gratitude.”
“It has been real revealing about the things that are important and the things that aren’t that important in life,” she said.
Jerry, now 65, volunteers for the transplant organization Donate Life and visits drivers’ education classes to urge young people to register to become organ donors.
The couple is also on a mission: walk in the American Heart Association’s Heart Walk in all 50 states.
They launched their cross-country Heart Walk journey after participating with their grown daughters in walks in Orlando and Seattle in 2015, a year after the transplant. McCann, while talking with his son-in-law, pondered the idea of making it to all 50 states.
“That kind of snowballed the whole thing,” Jerry said.
They find it “energizing” to meet fellow participants and raise awareness for heart disease and funding for medical research.
Now they have completed Heart Walks in Florida, Washington, Wisconsin, Illinois, Iowa, Minnesota, Oregon, Arizona, Tennessee, Indiana, Missouri, New York, Connecticut, Nebraska and South Dakota — 15 so far. Friends and family sometimes join them.
The McCanns wear red T-shirts showing a U.S. map they color in as they go and bearing the words “Moving our feet and keeping the beat one state at a time!” Jerry walks in tribute to his anonymous donor.
One of their recent walks in Omaha, Nebraska, was a “grand adventure,” Margaret said. “It was a perfect morning and a beautiful route over the Missouri River.”
Jerry likes to connect with other transplant recipients, who wear red hats and stand out in the walking crowd. His message to others is to “enjoy every day.”
Nevada is the next state on the couple’s list, with the Las Vegas Heart Walk on Sept. 30. But first comes the walk in their hometown of Madison on Sept. 16.
“We’re making up for some quiet years,” he said. “I just have a need to pay back and help out wherever I can.”