by Garrick Moritz, Faulk County Record
Brad Paul lived under a death sentence for 33 years, but this past May, that sentence was reprieved.
“I was 23 at the time, and it was back in 1979 when I first learned about my heart troubles,” Paul said. “Since then, I’ve known that it would only be a matter of time. I knew that my heart disease would kill me, and that whenever it was going to happen it would happen. There wouldn’t be anything that anybody could do about it.”
“I’ve always tried to live life to the fullest, and always been kind of a daredevil, because I figured that I might as well live the way I wanted to, because I wouldn’t get a second chance at it. It got me into trouble in a lot of ways. I used alcohol as a painkiller. I’d do things that, looking back, were kind of stupid and reckless.”
Paul said that at times too, he’d do something he knew would be dangerous for him, just because he didn’t want to be considered weak. Then he’d pay for it, hard.
“Afterward I’d wake up and just be happy to still be alive,” he said.
Over time, Paul said that he could do less and less, that year by year he noted a dramatic reduction in his capacity to do the things he loved, or even simple things.
“This disease I had, and that my son Ben has now, well, it wore me down more and more as time went on,” he said. “This last year was the worst. I can honestly say that I was literally dying.
“Now I feel like I’m really living for the first time in a long time. Now, things are different. Before I was groping in the dark, reaching for the light, like living in a basement and never going out. Now, it’s like I’m living my whole life outdoors.”
The big change is, of course, his heart transplant. In January of 2012, he was approved to be put on the heart transplant list, which was a feat in itself, since ordinarily you have to be cancer-free for at least five years, and Paul had only been cancer-free for three years. But it was pretty clear that without a transplant, his condition would continue to deteriorate. The doctors approved putting him on the list after clean PET scans and a colonoscopy.
One trip to the FAMC emergency room made it clear indicator that Paul would not survive without a transplant. Paul, during his many and varied visits to the hospitals in the Twin Cities, had an emergency defibulator installed in his body, to jolt him back, should his heart fail. One “special event,” as he puts it, the defibulator went off eight times in succession.
“It gave me post traumatic stress, I don’t mind saying,” he said. “The fear of it hitting you, and you can feel the thing warming up for a jolt. So you anticipate it and with the fear of it, it’s worse. Imagine getting hit by a 2×4 in the back as hard as somebody can smack you with it, and that’s about what it felt like. I want to thank the people at the Faulkton hospital for all they did for me that day, I know that they probably already know how grateful myself and the family are to them, but I just wanted to say it for the record all the same.”
“Now that’s all gone, it’s a disease I used to have,” he said. “There is no hole in my heart, no patch, no defibulator. It’s all gone, and it’s monumental.”
On May 26 this past spring he got the call, and in the early hours of May 27 his heart was replaced with a donor’s. After that he spent the last 100 days or so in recovery, trying to get his white blood cell count a little higher, getting used to the idea that he may live many long years yet.
“Towards the end there, I was in tough shape,” he said. “Thoughts about it consumed me and when I laid down at night I would feel my heart beating. When they put in the new heart, it when from being a soft tapping to a sound like a sledgehammer, it was so very strong. Now it feels like I have a whole new body that moves with every beat. My whole outlook on life has changed. Before I hoped that I would live to see my grandkids, and now, well, now I can look forward to spending more time with them than I would have dared to hope for.
“It’s crazy, just crazy that I’ve got a new slice of time for my own life, that I wouldn’t have apart from the fact that I’ve got somebody else’s precious bits inside me. Somebody I’ve never met, who I’ll never be able to thank, at least not on this earth.”
“I’ve lived fast in the past, love racing cars and riding motorbikes. The thought has crossed my mind more than once now, do I get back on a bike again . . . or when I do, do I wear a helmet? I think that maybe I have more respect for this person’s heart than I did for my own. That now I can keep living my life, I’d better take care of it. I guess we’ll see.”
For more on Brad Paul’s experiences, visit: caringbridge.org/visit/bradpaul