Home for the Holidays

My name is Eric Auger.

This Christmas, I’m excited to say I will be home for the holidays, able to see my son’s face as he opens his presents. And I’ll be able to give him a hug and kiss.

I wasn’t able to do that last year.

That’s because, after a seven-month wait of being on a transplant list, I received a call on December 11, 2016—telling me a heart had been found for me.

Within 48 hours, I not only had a new heart—but an entirely new lease on life.

 

A rough start

I was born with congenital heart disease and—prior to my heart surgery—had 13 surgeries in the first three decades of my life. I also had a pacemaker by the time I was 12!

I was only 14 months old when I had my first heart operation. During surgery, I didn’t get enough oxygen to my brain, which caused some brain damage and a mild case of cerebral palsy.

At age three or four, doctors told my mother that I wouldn’t ever be able to walk.

However, my mom wouldn’t put me in a wheelchair. She believed I would walk again. And she was right. I didn’t start walking until I was six…but I still did it.

 

A pretty normal childhood

You may be surprised by this, but I didn’t really feel physical pain when I was younger. My heart condition was quite manageable.

Still, growing up, kids weren’t always nice to me. They basically laughed at me because my cerebral palsy made me shake so much.

I also had a very small frame and because of my condition, wasn’t really able to do much physical activity. However, I could sometimes play road hockey, soccer and baseball with my closest friends, who understood I had a heart condition (they took it a bit easier on me.)

Life was actually pretty normal. Keep in mind, I was used to having this condition and dealt with it very much on my own, asking for a little help here and there…but not very much.

By the time I was a teenager, you could say I had a pretty typical life: partying, and hanging out with friends and girlfriends. I wasn’t as good with taking my medication as I could have been, but life was pretty good.

It really wasn’t until adulthood that things changed.

 

Cardiac arrest

In my mid-20s, I was beginning to slow down a lot, and didn’t know what was wrong with me.

I didn’t tell anyone. But I should have—because at age 29, I had my first cardiac arrest.

I died that day: they actually pronounced me dead for an hour.

I had no brain activity, no oxygen, no nothing. I was told that the paramedics worked on me for an hour straight.

I went into a coma at the Heart Institute for almost two weeks.

Somehow, I pulled out of it and went back to feeling perfectly normal.

But that was just temporary. Unfortunately, this was only the beginning of my troubles.

 

Total hell

I had three more heart attacks over the next 4-5 years—and was pronounced dead two more of those times.

I refer to that period of my life as total hell—for me, as well as my family, who had to see me suffer.

Eventually, the team at the Heart Institute said I had two options: either put my name on the transplant list, or die slowly.

I was only 34.

It may surprise you, but it was a hard decision in a way. The main reason is my heart flipped upside-down when I was born—so all my arteries, vessels and blood flow were backward. Basically, my anatomy is different than most.

Despite this, I decided to go on the transplant list in early 2016. But by September of last year, I had been in and out of the hospital every month.

As a result, my name was accelerated closer to the top of the list.

 

The phone call

I got the call on December 11, 2016: a new heart was available.

I literally think if I hadn’t gotten that phone call, I wouldn’t have made it past Christmas. I was so sick by that time, I could barely walk up two stairs without catching my breath.

I went to the Heart Institute the next day.

I was warned there was a possibility I could die on the table. But I had already been at peace even before I heard a heart was available. Sitting in there in the bed, waiting to be wheeled down to the operating room at the Heart Institute…I was ready. It was either I live or I die.

Thankfully, with help from the Heart Institute, I survived—and thrived.

Recovery

When I woke up, I had a lot of chest discomfort because the surgeons had to break a couple ribs to get in there. It hurt a lot!

But the staff got me up and moving within two days.

And in less than a month, I was able to return home.

It probably took about three months before I could actually move and do stuff. (My wife wouldn’t let me do anything!)

But over time, my health began to improve.

It’s been over a year now, and I continue to go to the Heart Institute for biopsies, which measure how my heart is doing. I used to go for biopsies twice a week for four weeks. Then it was once a week. Then, once a month. Now, it’s every three months.

If all goes well, I won’t have to have another biopsy for six months. And then, I will only have to have one every year.

The Heart Institute has been great in terms of the care I’ve received. I know most of the nurses there—they’ve been great and helped me out a lot. Once, I even received a personal email from one of them, just checking in on me. It’s a great feeling to know that people there actually care about you and want to help you.

I also have to give credit to my wife and mother for their support through all this. To my mom, who never put me in that wheelchair and kept me going. And to my wife, who kept picking me up when I was down. Any time I wanted to give up, she kept picking me up, dusting me off and getting me going. If not for both of them, I don’t think I would be here today.

And of course, I am very grateful to the person whose heart I now have. While I don’t know them, I feel very honoured and thankful for this second chance at life.

 

Back to life

Today, I am feeling 100% better, healthier, and much more energetic.

I no longer have congenital heart disease. No more pacemaker, defibrillator or bad heart. They took out everything, and now I’m normal—for the first time in my life.

Now, I can play sports. I even volunteered this past summer as an assistant coach for my son’s baseball team.

And this past August, I went with my wife, son and parents to Vancouver for a 10-day vacation. That was something I wouldn’t have been able to do within the last four years.

 

Christmas and plans for the new year

I couldn’t wait to spend this Christmas with my son and family. As a personal treat, I even bought myself a ticket to see the Ottawa Senators play an outdoor game at TD Place in mid-December—almost a year to the day that I received my new heart.

As for 2018, I hope to return to the working world—hopefully in some sort of cooking position. My goal is to start six months from now. I’m working on building my strength. I walk my son to school every day, and exercise mostly every day. The last few years, I wasn’t able to do any of that stuff.

Meanwhile, I’m also enjoying waking up every morning to my seven-year-old son jumping on me. All that stuff I went through, I did for him. I love him more than anything in the world.

Message to donors

It doesn’t really matter what kind of donation you make, whether financial or otherwise. But if you’re considering making a donation, I encourage you to give to places like the Ottawa Heart Institute, and to please sign your organ donor card.

You really never know who you’re going to save, but there are people in this world who need your help.

People like me.

 

 

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