Monthly Archives: December 2020

Next! – Idaho Finds a Home: Part 4

“The path of the righteous is like the morning sun, shining ever brighter till the full light of day.” ~ Proverbs 4:18


When I was a kid, I loved playing 3-on-3 pick-up basketball. It didn’t matter where we played: on a school playground, in a park, on someone’s driveway court, or during open gym night at a high school. Usually there were other guys on the sidelines waiting to play against the winners of the game in progress. The winners would sometimes triumphantly boast and shout, “Next!” to summon the next set of players onto the court. 

Thinking about those carefree days took me back to the amazing experience in the echocardiogram exam room 2 months ago when I heard my strong and steady heartbeat. For a brief moment that day, the fear and uncertainty that brought my recovery to a slow crawl faded away. I wondered how amazing it would be to play a pick-up basketball game again. Each beat was like a lyric in a hopeful song from God and another step in my long journey of spiritual discovery.

Since that moment, I’ve seriously reflected on how God and spirituality continue to make a positive impact on my life. The journey started like the morning sun 10 years ago during the dark days when a massive heart attack and miraculous recovery consumed my life. There hasn’t been one “aha” moment along the way. Instead, like the words in Proverbs 4:18, the sun continues to shine brighter each day shedding new light on my understanding of God.

I was born and raised Catholic. I’ve received 6 of the 7 Holy Sacraments, including the Anointing of the Sick several times while on my deathbed. The only sacrament missing is ordination as a priest or deacon. Despite being a practicing Catholic, I never was able to connect the dots that linked the rituals and trappings of the Church with the wisdom of God ‘s word. The morning sun that started shining upon me a decade ago changed all of that.

I’ve been witness to miraculous things that have happened to me. I regularly read the daily mass and associated Bible commentaries. I also study the wise words of philosophers who have searched for the meaning of life. One thing is clear, this stuff is complicated. I believed in God as a little boy because my mom told me it was so. My limited understanding of what that belief meant came from mom, friends, family, and folklore. There was nothing to back up what they said.

A recent question that made the rounds with extended family was, “Does Jesus greet you in heaven when you die?” There was a flurry of differing opinions on the matter, some agreed and most were unsure. It turns out that the Bible doesn’t provide the answer. The closest thing to an answer is from the Gospel of Matthew 16:13-20 where Jesus gives the keys to heaven to St. Peter. The implication is that St. Peter is the guardian at heaven’s gate and greets all who enter.

But, all of that doesn’t really matter. My spiritual journey has taught me that the whole idea of God or any other supernatural power is believing in the power of faith, hope, and love as described by St. Paul the Apostle. Those 3 thoughts provide us with the strength and determination to carry on through the darkest of times. 

Faith allows us to accept the circumstances that exist in our lives. Hope assures us that whatever happens is supposed to happen according to God’s plan. Love inspires us to help others because it’s the right thing to do, not because we expect something in return. 

With that said, I also believe that putting our fate in God’s hands includes trusting the tools He provides. I don’t believe that God wants us to sit back and do nothing for ourselves. Throughout my health crisis, the tools he has given me are my amazing family and the expert healthcare team at Kaiser Santa Clara: doctors, nurses, support staff, psychologist, physical therapist, technicians, etc. 

God puts these kinds of heroes in our paths to enrich our life journeys. To ignore and not trust them is to not trust Him. According to the Gospel of Luke 4:12, Jesus tells the Pharisees , “Do not put the Lord your God to the test.” I tested Him many times in the past without success. That’s why I decided not to do that throughout my health crisis. I believe that using the tools He has provided is a major reason for enduring the past 10 years.

Another question looms on the horizon as I’m about midway through the most challenging 18 months of transplant recovery. As my physical and mental health continue to improve on a daily basis, I’m starting to think ahead. Every time I scale Montgomery Hill or get a great progress report from the heart clinic team, my lifelong tendency to start planning and plotting the next move kicks in. Part of me wants to yell, “Next!” with the bravado of a teenage boy winning game after game of 3-on-3 basketball. 

The other part of me, tempered by a decade of health trials and tribulations, will venture on with patience and no intention of prior planning or preparation. The strategy goes totally against the grain of what I learned as a kid and practiced as an adult. I won’t meticulously organize the next steps of my life. I tried that before, but God had other plans. My record of testing Him is absolutely abysmal, so the answer for a path ahead is clear. 

I’ll take it one day at a time. That’s what God, His prophets, thousands of years of philosophers, and modern-day mindfulness gurus have been telling us to do. Many loved ones and friends tell me that I should just enjoy life. I must confess that I don’t know what that means. What brings joy to one person doesn’t necessarily mean that same thing is enjoyable for another.

I love to read, write, think about things that many people might not care much about, share my thoughts, and help others. While a few friends count down the days to retirement, I look forward to doing the same kinds of things I did for a living, but without timelines, benchmarks, deadlines, and compensation. I’m willing to bet that there are those who may wonder what’s wrong with me. After all I’ve been through, I’m sure they reason, why would I do anything that has even a hint of “work?”

Summer in the Waiting Room on is an example of doing something that requires the same energy as a job, but isn’t “work.” The original purpose for writing the story was self-therapy to help me accept my health condition and the demons that haunted me. It also inspired me to explore the meaning of God and share, in simple terms, a regular guy’s knowledge of heart failure to educate those suffering from the disease. Putting my thoughts in a blog gave me a platform to do just that and be a source of hope for people struggling with illness or any life-changing incident.

Today’s post is the last of the Summer in the Waiting Room series. I finished writing the story and will soon begin the process of converting it into a manuscript. Although Summer in the Waiting Room excerpts are done, I’ll keep writing and posting my thoughts on a variety of issues I’m passionate about. The mission of is to inspire people with faith, hope, and love as the overarching philosophy and theme. Stay on the lookout for more posts to come.

With all of this in mind, taking care of myself and Idaho is the top priority. I’ll spend most of my additional time reading, writing, thinking, sharing my thoughts, and looking to find ways to offer hope. When COVID clears up, Sandra and I will watch movies, go out to dinner, and spend time with family and friends. In the meantime, I’ll pursue with gusto my passions for documentaries, cable news, and exploring different genres of music. Right now, I’m pretty hooked on 1960s soul crooners and 2000s pop punk. Who knows what other type of music will cross my path? 

The morning sun of faith that first rose that fateful moment in 2010 keeps shining brighter each day as I gain knowledge and wisdom about the world we live in and the heaven we aspire to. It may sound like the next chapter in my life has a full agenda. Will I be able to enjoy it? I don’t know. But, I know one thing for sure, whatever happens will happen in God’s time. I can live with that.

The Hilltop: Idaho Finds a Home – Part 3

Montgomery Hill – November 6, 2020

Be strong and courageous, for the Lord your God goes with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you.” ~Deuteronomy 31:6


As soon as the heart transplant team nurse practitioner (NP) who manages my care walked into the exam room, we got straight to work. She enthusiastically asked me how I felt. I didn’t give her the glowing report expected of a 3-month post-transplant patient. I told her that I felt weak and wasn’t making much progress.

Lab results from the day before and an echocardiogram (echo) from earlier that day told a different story. The blood tests showed that my body was functioning normally and confirmed no organ rejection, the biggest factor in transplant failure. The echo indicated that Idaho was performing like a Ferrari, just as the Stanford surgeon boasted after surgery.

The echo is an easy non-invasive procedure. While I was undressed from the waist up lying on an exam table, the technician made circular motions over the heart with a wand. The device sends images and sound to a computer that records the results of the exam. The test measures the strength of the heart muscle as it squeezes with each beat.

A darkened room allows a technician to better see the images on the computer. I’ve had countless echo procedures done. Two things always stood out before the transplant. First, the image on the screen showed a lopsided organ because the lower left chamber of my diseased heart was enlarged. Second, I could hear my heart laboring with unsteady beats.

The six-month echo was different. The image on the computer screen showed a heart that was perfectly shaped. With each beat, Idaho danced in a smooth rhythm while the strong and steady swishing sound of the heartbeat provided the background music. The sound was amazing. It was as if the words of Deuteronomy 31:6 were lyrics to a song that God was singing to me. 

The lyrics went on to tell me that it was time to start working to overcome the weakness and hopelessness that had infected my mind. Lying on a table in that dark room, I was reminded of St. Paul’s assurance that hope comes from suffering, endurance, and character. The message was clear: I’ve been here before and I can bounce back again with faith and determination..

Back at the transplant team exam room, the NP confirmed that the results of the echo were stellar. Despite the glimmer of hope that washed over me during the exam, I still reported that I didn’t feel good. Sandra asked if depression and anxiety could play a role in how I felt physically. The NP agreed and recommended that I consider speaking with the transplant team psychologist. 

The spiritual echo room experience and the knowledge that Idaho was strong and healthy inspired me to take on the mental and physical barriers that prevented me from moving forward in a positive and productive way. Adding a psychologist and physical therapist to the team was the first order of business. 

There has been great progress in the public consciousness about mental health, yet people still tend to lock the issue behind closed doors. In the aftermath of my mom’s passing in 2003, I learned that managing the mind is just as important as taking care of the body. Deciding to give my all to the process was a forgone conclusion.

My therapist is a young woman with the skills of a seasoned veteran. She has a casual, caring, and empathetic manner that allows me to be open about what troubles my mind and soul. Working with her helped me identify the cause of the depression and anxiety that swept through me like a hurricane during the first months of recovery. 

The issues we identified are related to my academic disqualification from San Jose State University almost 40 years ago and other self-perceived “failures” from that time. Since then, I graduated from SJSU and married an amazing woman. Together we have two wonderful daughters. 

Professionally, I worked my way up the corporate ladder to the executive suite, served in public office, and created a nonprofit organization that trains emerging civic leaders. Personally, I survived a massive heart attack and fought through heart failure for 10 years. The fight included a disciplined diet, medication regimen, exercise plan, and an implanted artificial heart pump. 

After all that, failure demons still hung over me like an executioner’s axe looming over the neck of a guilty convict. The events of the early 1980s made me believe that I was a failure. I met every accomplishment with a yawn and a stronger determination to do more. Each professional setback, however minor, further confirmed my core belief that I would never succeed.

Before starting therapy, I spent every day in bed feeling alone and curled up in a loose fetal position. My stomach churned and my mind swirled day after day believing that I failed Sandra and the girls by no longer providing for our family the way I had for so many years. I felt unworthy of the new heart and the donor that selflessly gave it to me. 

The therapist not only helped pinpoint the cause of my seemingly hopeless emotional condition, she provided me with mental exercises and a plan to fight the failure demons. Our work and my faith journey, brought back into focus by the spiritual encounter in the echo exam room, put me on the path to be mentally healthy for a successful transplant recovery.

During the early days of recovery, I benefited from physical therapist (PT) home visits. The role of the PT was to work on the twin goals of strengthening the new heart muscle and developing a plan to recondition my body after the traumatic surgery. After three months, I was able to go on short walks a few times per week. Idaho performed well, but the rest of my body lagged behind.

I wanted to walk to the top of Montgomery Hill, a hike I did a few times in the years before the transplant. It’s a 3 mile round trip from my house. To get there, I have to walk through the neighborhood to a bridge that crosses a creek onto a trail that meanders up to the hill. After 8 weeks with the in-home PT and a month of self-guided walks, I still couldn’t even make it to the bridge.

While working on my mental health, I also had the chance to address and improve my physical condition. Kaiser Redwood City has a specialized cardiac physical therapy department with experience serving heart transplant patients. My physical therapist (PT) is a patient and friendly young man with intimate understanding of physical rehab strategies related to heart failure.

He began by asking me to list a few short-term and long-term goals. I gave him three in this order: (1) walk to the top of Montgomery Hill, (2) shoot hoops, and (3) play a round of golf. He developed an exercise regimen I could do at home. These include leg workouts, and light dumbbell and core exercises. He advised me to work my way up the hill in small doable daily walks, adding distance gradually.

Two days before my 57th birthday, I had gotten within a few hundred yards and one steep incline away from my goal. On the morning of my birthday, which was also the 2nd anniversary of heart pump surgery and almost 7 months post-transplant, I made it to the hilltop and quietly celebrated by myself.

Sitting on a bench marvelling at the view of San Jose lying below, I felt the full weight of gratitude. The grace of God was watching over me. I was grateful for Sandra, Marisa, and Erica enduring with me every good and bad step of the way. I was thankful for my transplant care team, the team’s psychologist, and the Redwood City PT. 

I was back on track. Faith, hope, and love again ruled the day. The Buddha and the ancient philosophers returned to being valued advisors on this journey. As I made my way down the hill, I walked with purpose and a little spring in my step. 

I can’t wait until my 8-month transplant team appointment. God willing, I’ll be able to report that I’m feeling pretty darn good.


To catch up or re-read Part 1 and Part 2, go to the following links: