My Story

My Story

Hi, I would like to introduce myself.

My trail name is Tin Man, but my real name is William Spence and this is my story.

I want my story to be both a warning and an inspiration. You see all of what you are about to read could have been prevented, if I had only listen to my doctors and did the simple things they asked me to do, which by the I ended up doing anyhow!

It all started in the late 80s when I was taken to the hospital to via ambulance, after ending up on the floor of the living room with chest pains. I was given a battery of tests and admitted. The doctor came into my room the next day and told me that my cholesterol was exceedingly high and adding the stress from going to school for my engineering degree and working 45 to 60 hours per week, I was a heart attack waiting to happen – sent home with medication for the high cholesterol and told to change my eating habits and get some exercise.

I was in my 30s then and felt great! I still thought that I was invincible and didn’t much heed to the doctor. So, I carried on as I did before. Then, ten years later it happened; 1998, I was again rushed to the hospital by ambulance and had quadruple by-pass and a few stints put in. You would figure one would get the message. I did for a while, but then slipped back into my old bad habits.

I traveled for work, both domestically and internationally and didn’t get much exercise and ate in restaurants most of the time. This lead to being in and out of hospitals multiple times having more stints placed in my heart. When finally during one of the many hospital stays that I have had since I was forced into retirement, by my doctors, in 2005 because of my failing heart. They had to place the first of the three pacemakers that I would eventually get. I finally got the message, but it was already too late.

2012-2This was me in late August of 2012. This particular time I had gone in for what had become a routine heart catheterization. Well this was anything but, I crashed on the table and the doctors had to install 2012 a balloon pump in my groin to keep my blood circulating. I ended up taking an emergency helicopter ride from Elgin’s Presence St. Joe’s to Loyola University Hospital. The doctors at Loyola were able to get me back on my feet (sort of). I was able to go home with a 24/7 intravenous drip and pump. So, I was not much able to do anything more the sit in my recliner and watch the television.

I went from bad to worse; in and out of the hospital several more times until October of 2013. I became permanent guest in Loyola’s CICU waiting to die or get a new heart. December 2013 my organs had begun to fail and things didn’t look good for me. The doctors had some doubt if I was going to make it. My wife and I had talked trying to get my affairs in order.

New Year’s Day at 3 in the morning my room was filled with the nursing staff wishing me a HAPPY NEW YEAR and that they were going to get me ready for surgery because they had a heart for me.

I learned from my doctors that there had been multiple hearts that were turned down because they weren’t a good enough match. The heart that the doctors chose still had some doubt attached to it. My wife was told that the right side of the heart was a bit small and they had place an external pump on me to help the right side of the heart get acclimated to my body. If that didn’t work, I would be place right back on the top of the list.

Nearly 24 months later I was truly back on my feet, working out regularly and walking on my treadmill.This is me with a 40 pound pack on my back doing a 3 mile hike. I am preparing for my upcoming Appalachian Trail hike to celebrate my life and to honor my donor.

I have been blessed with the love and support of my wife, children, family and friends and have been given the Gift of Life from someone that I will never meet.

Going forward my credo is:

“I am the vessel for my donor’s heart. I shall honor it, cherish it, and respect it by placing one foot in front of the other!”

There are thousands of men, women, and children waiting for their Gift of Life and some may never get their chance as I did. The more donors that sign up, means there is a bigger chance at finding a compatible matches. I am asking, no pleading for your help in writing the ending to my story. Register to be a donor if you haven’t already done so. Spread the word about the massive and critical need for more organ and tissue donors.

-William Spence

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