Two heart-shaped red beads standing side by side.

By Kristi Coldwell

I remember when the sight of a cooler made my stomach churn, the sound of a beeper took my breath away, and a helicopter made me stop dead in my tracks. These were not ordinary, run of the mill days. These were days where coolers preserved more than potato salad, beepers were notices of life, and helicopters carried cargo so precious it was priceless.

These were the days when I was desperately waiting for a heart transplant. During this time I learned a great deal about myself and about life. I learned that nothing is carved in stone, that frankly life isn’t fair and I realized the importance that hope plays in keeping you alive. I also became aware if the true meaning of the word “gift.”

I had hope that my beeper would not remain silent, that I would indeed attend my prom the following year and that my dream of more tomorrows would come true. But the only way these things were going to happen was if I received a new heart. Whether I lived or died depended entirely on the decision another family was going to make. No amount of wishing, doctor’s skills, or money could save me, because life—and the gift of life—is priceless.

As the days turned into weeks and the weeks into months my health continued to decline and I grew increasingly more fearful. The reality was that I could very well die on the waiting list, having never heard my beeper go off. It also occurred to me that if I gave in to the idea that I wasn’t going to make it I wouldn’t make it. Although my life was slipping away from me I wasn’t going to let my hope fade. Despite the fact had no control over my fate I still had control over something just as crucial—what I believed. No matter what happened to me I knew if I maintained my hope, that I would be okay.

In the early morning hours of August 12, 2000, after a three and a half month wait, I received my heart transplant. Funny enough, my beeper never went off; it was a phone call that changed my life. On that day I was not only given a new heart, I was given my life back. I will be forever grateful to my donor and their family for saving my life. In fact I still find myself putting my hand to my chest, to my new heart and saying, “thank you.” I have a feeling I always will.

Because of their selfless gift, because of the heart that beats inside me, I have a future. I also have a pink prom dress, silver shoes and a purse to match. Had I given up, had I let my hope of better days diminish, I seriously don’t think I would have made it. If you don’t have hope, you have nothing. I will always have hope, and now I also have a heart that works.

Kristi wrote this when she was 18, shortly after she received her new heart. She went on to receive a BA in Child and Youth Care and today she is married and works as a child life specialist for Surrey Memorial Hospital and CHN’s Hearts of Gold Program.

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