God’s Time is the Right Time: Part 1

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Hurry Up and Wait – September 2019

I remember the days when I traveled for work, especially during the wintertime. Bad weather and long delays at airports ruled the day. Despite the fact that neither I nor my fellow passengers had any control over snowstorms and flight schedules, the collective mood at the gate was always tense, frustrating, and stressful.

Our lives are filled with these types of “hurry up and wait” moments. We’ve all experienced the frustration of hustling to get ready for work just to sit in bumper-to-bumper traffic because of an accident on the freeway.  Some of us have experienced rushing a loved one to the emergency room only to wait for hours as doctors tended to sicker patients. Circumstances that we have no power over always seem to irritate us the most.

For the majority of my 56 years, I’ve been an impatient man. I’m a product of the “I want it and I want it now” baby boom generation willing to work hard, but reluctant to let God manage the schedule. Life experience and witnessing the wonder of God’s will when everything seemed hopeless have significantly toned down my generational want of instant gratification.

It took many years and countless flights to accept the reality of unpredictable air travel. Once the realization that I had no control over how airlines managed schedules disrupted by weather, the anxiety that comes with unexpected delays no longer ruined my time at a busy airport. Endless days in the hospital further strengthened my patience and taught me to embrace the power of accepting God’s timeline.

I’m now in the most consequential hurry up and wait moment of my life. I’m waiting for a heart. Physically and emotionally, no other challenge has been harder. My daily routine is dominated by keeping the rest of my body strong and healthy. My thoughts seesaw from the anticipation of getting “the call” to the mixed-feelings that come with knowing someone will lose a life to save mine.

To complicate matters, management of the transplant list is complex. It’s not like waiting for your turn in line for a ride at Disneyland. That’s why it’s impossible to predict when a transplant will happen. The criteria for placement on the list are developed by the Organ Procurement and Transplantation Network (OPTN), a branch of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

To begin with, there are three major considerations. First, the heart donor and the recipient must have the same blood type. Second, the donor and the recipient need to be about the same size. Third, the donor and recipient should be relatively close in distance to ensure that the heart is strong when it arrives at the recipient’s hospital.

The criteria developed by OPTN to determine in what order heart transplant recipients are selected include the following 6 categories (Status 1 patients are first in line):

Status 1:   The patient is in the hospital and connected to an Extracorporeal Membrane Oxygenation (ECMO) machine. The ECMO does the work for the heart and lungs and is necessary to keep the patient alive.

Status 2:   The patient is in the hospital with a LVAD heart pump that has malfunctioned and isn’t working properly or the patient’s heart rhythm can’t be managed by medication or a pacemaker.

Status 3:   The patient is not in the hospital, has an implanted LVAD heart pump, and is qualified to be placed on a 30-day priority list. This puts the patient first in line if there are no Status 1 or Status 2 patients in the hospital.

Status 4:   The patient is not in the hospital, has an implanted LVAD heart pump, isn’t on a 30-day priority list, and is otherwise healthy.

Status 5:   The patient needs more than one organ transplanted.

Status 6:   The patient is a candidate for a heart transplant.

With that being crystal clear (LOL), it might make some sense how my 16-month journey on the transplant list has been quite an emotional adventure.  After a rigorous 7-month evaluation period, I qualified for the list in late October 2018. I was excited about the prospect of getting a new heart, but the excitement only lasted for about a week.

Some 10 days later, the heart transplant team implanted a LVAD pump to help my heart function while I’m on the waitlist. At that time, the team deactivated my placement on the list until the chest wound fully healed from the LVAD surgery. During the spring of 2019, the doctors determined that I had fully recovered. I was overjoyed by the thought of being reactivated on the list. But…

During the November operation, my lungs reacted negatively to the surgery and made the procedure challenging. Although doctors proactively addressed the lung issues, they remained concerned about the health of my lungs as they deliberated over the decision to reactivate. With that in mind, the team recommended a reevaluation of my lung function before placing me back on the list. My joy quickly turned into uncertainty.

Four more months of lung function tests and medication adjustments followed. In August 2019, the lungs received a clean bill of health. I was reactivated on the transplant list as a Status 4 patient. I had a well-functioning LVAD and in general good health. It was in an ideal situation. Doctors could be strategic about when to implement the 30-day priority status. I felt confident about the path forward.

Later that fall, the cardiology team decided that the time was right to kick in the 30-day priority option and elevate me to Status 3. There were no Status 1 or Status 2 patients in the hospital at the time. I was next in line for someone with my blood type and size. A million thoughts raced through my mind. I was excited, scared, nervous, and grateful all at once.

A mere 15 hours after being bumped up to priority status, a cardiologist from the Stanford transplant team called at 1:00 AM to let me know that a match had been identified. He asked that I report to the Stanford Hospital cardiac unit at 10:00 AM later that morning to prepare for surgery. After 7 sleepless hours, I showered, packed a small bag, and let the girls know what was happening.

Shortly before 9:00 AM, Sandra and I were on the freeway heading north on U.S. 101. It felt like the longest 40-minute drive of our lives.

********

To be continued…

2020 Vision

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Christmas Eve – 2019

New Year’s Eve was my dad’s favorite day of the year. Other notable days on the calendar – his birthday, St. Valentine’s Day, Easter, 4th of July, Thanksgiving, Christmas – were just like any other day. While he recognized those dates as important, his way of celebrating them seemed obligatory at best. New Year’s Eve was different. He celebrated the end of the year with joy. His charming smile and mischievous eyes carried the day.

At first glance, it appeared as though his fondness for the year’s farewell was rooted in the revelry that followed. But that wasn’t the reason. My dad never met a party that he didn’t love. With some music and a little alcohol, he could turn any gathering into a full-fledged bash. I think that there was something about washing away the challenges of the previous year and getting a fresh start that ignited his imagination.

When I was a young man, I too reveled in the celebratory trappings of New Year’s Eve, partying into the night and wee hours of the morning setting fire to the past. That changed as I got older and built a family with Sandra. Other than midnight hugs and kisses, the passing of another year is merely one more day for our extended family to share time together.

On that note, the ritual of making a New Year’s resolution never really appealed to me. Like a political purist protesting for a cause, I stubbornly refused to participate in the annual tradition of promising to do something that surely wouldn’t be accomplished. For me, a New Year’s resolution was a delusion of grandeur that usually and ultimately resulted in disappointment and self-judgment.

About 15 years ago, I learned how to write a Personal Vision and Mission Statement while participating in an executive training program. The statement looks like the outline students are supposed to prepare before writing a term paper in English composition class. Here’s how it works: The vision is like a thesis statement and the mission provides the main points and body of evidence for the essay.

I primarily used this technique to create a roadmap for my career. I updated it on an annual basis after analyzing the previous year’s goals and objectives. It worked like magic. Within 6 years, I achieved a professional stature that was unimaginable as a kid or college student. After my 2010 medical crisis, I reworked the statement and began using it as New Year’s resolution to manage heart failure and my personal life.

For 8 years, I made minor adjustments as circumstances didn’t change much. I didn’t update my personal vision and mission last December because I was fresh out of LVAD surgery nursing an open chest wound and learning how to live with a mechanical pump attached to my heart. With the passing of each month in 2019, I was feeling better and growing stronger. By mid-summer, I was on autopilot.

During the last quarter of 2019, monthly cardiologist appointments continued to go well. Blood tests were consistently positive and daily walks were better than ever. Yet, I was off balance. There was the close call for a heart transplant in late September and then…nothing. After that, I increasingly felt like a rudderless boat floating aimlessly in calm waters. Life went on for everyone else, but stood still for me.

When the rains came, I didn’t walk as much as usual. Just before Thanksgiving, my father-in-law was waging the last battle of his life. December started with funeral preparations and Christmas caught us all by surprise. The carefree summer on autopilot changed into an early winter rut. I turned to my personal vision and mission statement for guidance. None was forthcoming. The annual tweaks no longer made sense.

I spent New Year’s Eve in deep thought, brooding over a lifetime of mistakes and “what ifs.”  The year 2019 began with the basics – working to regain the strength I lost during a difficult surgery – and finished with no end in sight to my current health situation. I was looking 2020 squarely in the eyes with no vision for my life. When I tucked into bed at 2:00 AM, I resolved to completely rework my personal vision and mission statement.

I dedicated the late morning hours of 2020 to that task. For a decade and a half, I’ve shared this most intimate working document with no one. Today, I put myself on blast sharing my vision, mission, and modus operandi for the year ahead. I would like to give readers some insight into how to turn a resolution into an action plan and give some hope to those facing life’s challenges.

My personal vision for 2020 is to live a full life while preparing for the next phase of my health journey. To accomplish this, my mission is to nourish my body, mind, and soul on a daily basis.

During the final months of 2019, my routine was void of intellectual curiosity. I spent hours channel surfing and social media scrolling. Reading was limited to periodic articles in magazines and the internet. The last entry on this blog was 73 days ago and I spent little time interacting with friends and family. In 2020 I will feed my mind by reading at least one book per month and writing at least 500 words per day. I plan to post regularly on ESEReport.com and participate in dialogue with others on issues of the day.

I also intend to strengthen my body in the coming year. My heart and lungs struggled during surgery last fall. With God’s grace, the rest of my organs, tissues, bones, and muscles were strong enough to withstand the challenges. My 2020 plan includes a low-fat and moderate-salt diet, plenty of water to stay hydrated, 7,500 steps per day, and light resistance exercises a few times per week.

By digging deeper into the words of St. Paul the Apostle and the Buddha, I’ve made amazing progress on my spiritual journey. In 2020, I’ll take care of my soul with the daily Gospel, morning prayers, and meditation. Reflecting on the Four Noble Truths of Buddhism will come to the rescue when desire for something or another inevitably rears its ugly head. Being present for my family and mentoring Latina and Latino emerging leaders will continue to be the centerpiece of my passions.

I know that my plans can come to screeching halt when a donor heart becomes available. I subconsciously sat around waiting for that day to come for the last few months of 2019. With my 2020 personal vision, mission, goals and objectives complete, I’m entering the new decade with faith, hope, and love. I will carry on with gusto day-to-day until God reveals his plans for the next phase of my journey.

 

 

 

Hope = S + E + C (Part 2)

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I’m goofing around while leaving the hospital on August 20, 2019

“We rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope.”

~ Romans 5:3-4

***

Early in our relationship, Sandra showed her deep understanding of faith and hope with a strip of paper she lovingly put into the palm of my hand. She was just in her early-20s, but already endowed with precocious good judgment. I was a few years older with a swagger in my step, a chip on my shoulder, and determination in my eyes. I was confident that ambition and hard work would secure a successful future.

On that slip of paper were 15 words of wisdom: “Life is 10% what happens to you and 90% of how you react to it.” Sandra offered this wise advice as a tool to relieve the obsessive resolve that would consume me when someone or something posed a threat to my progress. She folded the ticket-sized document, placed it in my wallet, and encouraged me to reflect on it when anxiety reared its ugly head.

I cherished that piece of paper because Sandra gave it to me. But, I didn’t take the advice. For years it stayed in my wallet while my reaction to challenges remained unchanged. When my brothers-in-law playfully tossed me into a swimming pool fully clothed one summer, the fragile document disintegrated in the water. Nevertheless, Sandra’s gift stayed on my mind. Unfortunately, its lessons didn’t.

My spiritual journey inspired me to research where the quote came from. An American Christian evangelist named Charles Swindoll said it during a sermon on hope. It was his action-oriented response to St. Paul’s assertion that “suffering produces endurance.” In other words, we shouldn’t surrender to suffering by giving up. We should carry on by building character and giving ourselves hope.

St. Paul’s definition of hope and Swindoll’s guidance to persist positively in the face of hopelessness bring to mind the Four Noble Truths of Buddhism. Those Truths teach us that (1) suffering is a fact of life, (2) not getting what we want causes suffering, (3) removing the desire to get what we want can end suffering, and (4) living a meaningful life is the way to take away desire.

I got a chance to try out these ideas a couple of months ago. Doctors were concerned that I was developing an infection and admitted me into the hospital for preventive doses of antibiotics and additional testing (see “Hope=S+E+C, Part 1” https://esereport.com/2019/08/28/hope-sec-part-1/). Encouraging Sandra to go home and get some rest, I found myself in a dark hospital room alone with my thoughts.

Those who have spent any amount of time in a hospital know that it’s not a pleasant experience. In addition to the pain and discomfort caused by illness, a black cloud of worry and doubt hangs over you. It’s the anxiety of being confined and not knowing the outcome that cause people to say things like, “I hate hospitals. I wouldn’t be able to stay there very long. I just want to go home.”

That’s how I felt when the doctor told me that I could be in the hospital for an undetermined amount of time. The best case scenario was that I would be free of infection and go home after 3 days. The worst case was having a bad infection that would require surgery to cut out the contamination. That option would create a new set of issues. The prospect of surgery intensified my sense of uncertainty.

I had no desire to be in this situation. In the darkness of the room, I prayed on St. Paul’s meaning of hope, reflected on the Buddha’s Four Noble Truths, and thought about the words of wisdom Sandra shared with me on that slip of paper over 30 years ago. The facts were clear, though. I was in the hospital with a potential infection (10%), but it was my choice on how to react to it (90%).

I decided to concentrate on the 90%. I would make the best of the situation and just go with it. I knew the routine: lights out around 10:00 PM, shift change at 11:00 PM, IV medication change around 2:00 AM, blood draw for labs at 4:00 AM, morning medication at 6:00 AM, and doctor’s rounds between 8:00 AM and 9:00 AM. Once the morning shift starts, it gets really busy. It sure sounds like a funny way to get rest.

Since I knew what was coming, I figured I could make the time pass by catching up with those who cared for me in November and getting to know the folks I hadn’t met yet. Seeing familiar faces, I retold the tall tales of 2010 and the previous fall, talked about politics, and learned more about my condition. I took several walks each day running into yet more people on the healthcare team. This might sound a little weird, but it was like a homecoming.

When I was alone in the room, I read, watched the news, and kept up with social media. Even though the place is more expensive than the Four Seasons, accommodations sucked, the food was lousy, and I didn’t feel all that well. Despite the downside, I stayed focused on the people. They’re consummate professionals and caring human beings.

They made me feel like the most important person in the world whenever they walked into the room. So much so, I wanted to do the same. The hours flew by. When Sandra came after work, we caught up on our days. I updated her on the doctor’s morning analysis and she shared war stories from her busy day at the office. If it wasn’t for the uncomfortable bed and the IV needle sticking out of my arm, the evenings were like any other we spent at home.

All in all, I spent 3 nights and 3 days in the cardiac unit at Kaiser Santa Clara Medical Center. When the smoked cleared, I was free of infection. Many people would say that God answered our prayers because it ended the way we wanted. Of course, that’s true. But it’s more than that. God answered my prayers by allowing me to focus on each moment as it passed, rather than worry about an unknown outcome.

Spending time alone gave me the opportunity to think about how chronic illness, a broken relationship, a job loss, a car crash, a natural disaster, or just about anything that goes against what we want can change everything in an instant. That’s the 10% of life Pastor Swindoll talks about. We don’t have much control over those things. Yet, we spend so much energy and time trying to control them.

I also spent much time thinking about St. Paul and the Buddha while in the hospital. Both spiritual leaders believe that life is all about how we respond to suffering. Paul tells us that it leads to endurance, character, and hope – the certainty that God does what’s just. Buddha tells us that suffering can be overcome by minimizing the desires that cause so much havoc in our lives.

Mick Jagger poetically put it this way, “you can’t always get what you want.” But that’s okay. That’s better than okay. It keeps us balanced in a world fraught with desire. We want our loved ones to live forever. We want that car, that partner, that bank account, that house, that job, we want that ad infinitum. When we don’t get what we want, we become angry, sad, disappointed, and frustrated. That’s why we suffer.

Armed with new tools to manage the unknown, I left the hospital with a sense of a relief and gratitude. I was joking around and saying goodbye to the amazing cardiac unit team as a volunteer pushed the wheelchair through the hallway to the elevator that would take me down to the first floor and out to the car. God willing, I will see everyone again soon when I return to recover from heart transplant surgery.

In the meantime, I’m taking it day by day. Although that slip of paper Sandra gave to me so many years ago is long gone, its words are forever seared in my heart and soul. “Life is 10% what happens to you and 90% of how you react to it.” For 3 nights and 3 days that strategy worked for me in the hospital.

As usual, Sandra is right. I hate when that happens!

 

Hope = S+E+C (part 1)

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Sandra, Erica, and me at Oracle Park – August 10, 2019

A few weeks ago, Sandra, Erica, and I spent the afternoon with our compadres and their family in San Francisco watching our beloved Giants. It was an awesome day hanging out with dear friends and watching great baseball. Given the nature of my health challenges over the years, I felt incredibly blessed to be among the more than 39,000 people cheering on our team on a beautiful day.

Between laughs, ooohs and aaaahs, and a couple of handfuls of Cracker Jacks, my attention drifted to the journey that brought me to that seat in Oracle Park. I thought about my heyday on the diamond. I was the winning pitcher in our Little League championship game when I was 12 and selected captain of the high school varsity team. I chuckled at my own self-perceived brush with baseball immortality.

In spite of those youthful illusions of grandeur, the role competitive athletics played in my life has been more impactful than any algebra equation or geometry formula I may have scribbled on a piece of scratch paper in high school. Let’s see… (2x+3) (x2) = whatever Mr. Neff said it did.

Mr. Harris: What is the area of that circle?

Eddie: Um…I dunno, Mr. Harris.

Mr. Harris: Try this. π =π(radius)= πr2

Eddie: Um…I think it’s a pretty big circle, Mr. Harris.

It became clear early on that math wasn’t my strong suit. I wasn’t that good of an athlete either. But there was something thrilling about throwing a slider toward home plate against a big hitter or stealing a pass from a smooth point guard. More times than not, the guy on the other side of the ball got the best of me. Nevertheless, competitive sports taught me how to handle situations that didn’t go so well.

After a bad day on the free throw line or in the batter’s box, the coach would rally me and my teammates by encouraging each player to “stay with it and keep true to yourself.” That was the formula to overcoming obstacles and rising from the ashes of defeat. That coaching point came in handy when I was fighting to overcome a college setback, political defeats, and career disappointments.

Now I’m in yet another competitive contest. St. Paul and the Buddha have been my coaches throughout this fight. In his fifth letter to the Romans, Paul wrote, “we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope.” If I could recreate his text into an algebraic equation, here’s what it would look like: Hope=S+E+C.

Wait! What? Rejoice in our sufferings? Was St. Paul kidding when he wrote that? Who in their right mind wants to rejoice in suffering? Like a good mathematical equation, the first variable doesn’t make sense when standing alone. We all experience suffering. That’s just the way it is. My spiritual journey has taught me that faith – accepting what is – is the first step to understanding the formula that leads to hope.

Hope is a tricky word. We use hope as a synonym for want or wish. In fact, Webster’s dictionary defines hope as, “a desire of some good.” I’ve always used it in that way. I hope my daughters are healthy, happy, and successful. I hope the Giants win the World Series this year. I hope that I get a new heart soon. What I’m really saying is, “I want, I desire, I wish.” If those things don’t happen, disappointment is soon to follow.

St. Paul has an entirely different definition. He gives a comforting perspective on hope. He tells us that having hope is being certain that whatever barrier life presents is going to work out according to God’s plan for us, rather than what we want for ourselves. In his second letter to the Corinthians, St. Paul wrote that there’s a “sure hope of a glorious future” for those who have faith. Does that mean everything will always go our way? No, it doesn’t. It means that everything will go God’s way. That’s where hope comes in.

Throughout my journey, I’ve struggled to wrap my mind around the concept that hope is a certainty, not a desire. Exactly one week after that amazing weekend in San Francisco, the true meaning of hope hit me with a clarity that only God can deliver. That day, another health uncertainty loomed over what started as a wonderful day.

Sandra and I had just finished watching a movie and walked through the mall to get something to eat for dinner. For a couple of days, I felt tenderness around the skin near the opening in my abdomen where an electrical wire that powers the heart pump enters my body. The wire is called a driveline. The area needs to be cleaned and dressed every other day to ensure that an infection doesn’t grow there.

If not addressed immediately, an infected open wound could quickly develop into sepsis, a potentially fatal poisoning of the bloodstream. Keeping that area clean and sterile is a serious matter. A driveline infection is one of the leading causes of re-hospitalization for LVAD patients. Sandra and I had effectively managed the open wound, which helped me avoid spending even a single day in the hospital.

As we walked out of the theater after the film, I mentioned to Sandra that the driveline was sore to the touch. Together, we inspected the dressing and noticed an unusual amount of discharge on the bandage. This was definitely not a good sign. I called the LVAD clinic hotline, described the situation, and sent photos of the affected area.

After a few minutes on the phone, the advice from the LVAD team was to enjoy dinner, clean the driveline and change the dressing when we got home, and visit the doctor’s office in the morning. All went according to plan. In the clinic the next morning, the LVAD physician assistant took more pictures, dressed the wound, and sent me to the lab to draw blood.

While I waited for my turn to get poked by a needle, the cell phone in my pocket started to buzz. It was the physician assistant. He informed me that the cardiologist reviewed the images. He advised that I stand by after doing the blood work. The doctor decided to admit me into the hospital. Driveline infections could be dangerous, he continued, so the team didn’t want to take any chances.

There it was. Bam! Another blow to the gut! Just like that, I had no control of what would happen next. My response on the phone was, “Are you serious?” The answer on the other line was brief. “Yes, we’re waiting for a room to become available.” I called Sandra to share the news and waited some more. A few minutes later, as I watched blood flow from my veins into a bunch of test tubes, I thought about how the change of events put me into another phase of uncertainty.

For the first time in 9 months, I had to shed regular clothes to don the thin light blue cotton hospital gown that symbolizes the anxiety that comes with confinement. I’d been here before. One hundred six days in the summer of 2010. Four separate visits in 2018 as my heart showed signs of wear and tear. Twenty-six days in November of that same year. Each time the prospect of never leaving hung over me like a black cloud.

This time, I was armed with the wisdom of St. Paul the Apostle and the Buddha. Faith and hope were intertwined in a spiritual dance that would mold my outlook on the latest crisis. When the nurses came into the room to prepare for the stay, they put me at ease immediately. They recalled rooting for my recovery during those harrowing days last fall. Though not happy about the circumstances, they greeted me with cheerful smiles. “Hi Mr. García, it’s good to see you doing so well.”

Doing so well? That was reassuring and uplifted my spirits. Other than the tenderness near the driveline wound, I was thriving. After LVAD surgery, I’ve spent quality time with Sandra and the girls. I walk every day. I continue to pursue my passion for working with and mentoring emerging Latina and Latino leaders. I’ve gone to the ballpark, the movies, and danced at family gatherings.

Standing in the hospital room, I accepted that something was not right. It was out of my hands. I left it to God to make sure that the doctors were taking the prudent course of action. While the cardiology team analyzed results of the blood cultures to confirm or rule out an infection, they pumped antibiotics into my bloodstream to fight whatever contamination that might have been brewing.

The nurses completed their work prepping for what was ahead. I had two IV needles fused into my wrist. The familiar and depressing sights, sounds, and smells of a hospital room closed in on me like a sterile vice. This time was different though. Instead of descending into the darkness of despair and uncertainty, I rejoiced in my suffering. I knew that this would make me stronger and give me the spirit to soldier on. I was hopeful.

 

 

 

 

 

God’s Grace is Sufficient (Part 2)

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“A revitalizing breeze swept through me and the bright sun covered my back like a warm blanket. At that moment, I felt the presence of God.”

Click here for God’s Grace is Sufficient (Part 1)

https://esereport.com/2019/07/29/gods-grace-is-sufficient-part-1/

***

I put on a black t-shirt, khaki cargo shorts, and black Nike quarter socks. I transferred the LVAD equipment from the satchel to a backpack especially made to carry the VAD’s controller and batteries. With the backpack in place, I laced up a pair of black Nike cross-training shoes, grabbed my sunglasses, smart phone, earplugs, a baseball cap, and water bottle.

I set the hat on my head, situated my shades, and opened the front door. I love listening to music when walking, so I connected to the Spotify app on my cell. On the heels of the good news from my cardiologist, I was upbeat and in the mood for James Brown. The earplugs were in place and JB’s funky classic “Get on the Good Foot” blasted in my ears as I briskly strolled down the driveway ( https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VgGwI12zMJg).

I followed my usual route to Evergreen Park, a little more than 2 miles away. From the house, I went to the end of my neighborhood, crossed a small bridge, hiked on the Montgomery Hill trail through Evergreen Valley College, and navigated a busy intersection before getting to the park. Along the way, my midsection began to tense up a little. James Brown’s iconic screams were fading in my ears as my gait slowed.

I tried to figure out why I was feeling that way. My mind had been in turmoil for some time until the phone call from the heart clinic. Impulsively, it was on a high because the news was good. Faith isn’t supposed work that way. True faith is about standing strong while in the farthest corners of uncertainty. Yet here I was, celebrating a desired result shortly after weeks of doubt. Maybe I hadn’t learned anything about faith at all.

When I arrived at the park, I found a concrete table and bench shaded by a small grove of trees. I sat down to gather my thoughts and reflected on the story about how St. Paul the Apostle prayed three times pleading with God to take out a thorn stuck in his body. After the third request, God responded by saying, “My grace is sufficient, my power is made perfect in weakness.” This profound sentence has been the foundation of my spiritual education.

Here’s the thing about faith. It’s not a singular encounter or destination. It’s a long and winding road littered with debris like chronic disease, failed love affairs, job loss, a sick child, or death. The list is endless. Every time we think we’ve discovered the mystery of faith, the world throws something in our paths and we’re back in the spin cycle of worry and fear.

Catholic teaching has been part of my life since childhood. With that said, my journey has taught me that faith isn’t just a religious experience. Religion needs faith more than faith needs religion. People with different worldviews might not believe in God in the religious sense. But, there are things we just can’t comprehend or control. Faith provides answers to these unanswerable questions. Call it what you want – fate, the universe, the Creator. I call this mysterious force God.

Sitting on the concrete table with my feet on the park bench, memories of my darkest moments came to mind. Nine years ago doctors told me that I was having a heart attack in the emergency room. A week later, my heart suddenly stopped beating. Shortly thereafter, I felt a breathing tube snake down my throat before going into an induced coma. During each of those events, I was physically weak and in control of nothing.

Faith hadn’t even entered my vocabulary at that time. There had been no spiritual journey yet. I had no say in the situation. God promised St. Paul that “my power is made perfect in weakness.” In the absolute weakest and most hopeless days and nights of my life, the forces of faith washed over me. Without my participation, God handed over control to healthcare providers so they could collaborate with Him to save my life.

As these flashbacks ran through my mind, a revitalizing breeze swept through me and the bright sun covered my back like a warm blanket. At that moment, I felt the presence of God and reflected on what He has taught me about following the trail of faith. One thing is for sure. Nothing is permanent. Unexpected obstacles come and go and instances of triumph are only temporary. We need faith always.

Unfortunately, most of us practice situational faith. When in dire straits, we call on God for intervention and proclaim our faith. When success and accomplishment win the day, we thank God and proclaim our faith. That’s what happened to me after hearing good news about the transplant. For nearly a month and a half as I anxiously completed test after test and awaited the results, my faith was in short supply .

Minutes before I stopped to sit on the concrete table in Evergreen Park, my stomach churned and my mind wandered. With the sun’s warming rays showering over me and a light wind brushing my face, God reminded me what faith is all about. There are things that we just can’t control. We have the power to do the best we can with the tools God gave us to handle in any situation. We have to surrender the rest to God, fate, the cosmos, the Creator – whatever we want to call it – and accept the results.

I did everything in my control to give myself a chance to enhance the probability of getting reactivated on the transplant list. The doctors did too. Instead of leaving the rest to God, I spent days and weeks worrying about what might be. I allowed the forces of doubt, anxiety, worry, and fear to hijack my psyche. Despite my amazing journey, I reverted to worldly instincts and didn’t allow faith to combat those forces.

When my cardiologist called with good news, I immediately thanked God. But, my gratitude was for the wrong reason. I thanked Him for the results I wanted. I had forgotten that surrendering to Him and accepting the results is the true meaning of faith. My uneasiness during the walk reminded me of that. I got caught up into the vortex of desire – I want – instead of trusting what is.

We all succumb to the ways of the world. When good things happen we’re happy. Other days are awful and we become sad or angry. We look for many ways to turn bad days into good days. We have parties. We buy that dream something or other. We get a new hair style. We thank God for getting what we want. The list goes on and on and on. We feel better until the cycle starts again.

Having faith means getting off of that merry-go-round. Having faith is hard work, though. We have to practice it every day. I learned another big lesson sitting in the park. The phrase, “it is what it is’” isn’t just something we say when throwing up our hands in defeat. It should be used when we leave our destiny in God’s hands once we’ve done everything in our command.

Before I stood up to continue my walk, I again made the sign of the cross and thanked God. This time, I expressed my appreciation for reminding me to trust and accept His will. I thanked Him for giving me another moment of life and giving me the strength to face any new challenge He puts in my path.

In terms of my health, I still have a long way to go. I’ll keep doing all I can to help doctors guide me on the right track for a successful transplant. The rest I’ll leave to God. With faith on my side, I can fight the doubt and worry demons and keep them from getting in the way of basking in the glory of love, family, and friendship. It won’t be easy. That I know.

I started back across the park, through the busy intersection, and onto the trail through the college campus. Changing the music from the Godfather of Soul to the Great Bear of Baroque, George Frideric Handel, I approached the bridge that leads back into my neighborhood. I had a little skip in my as step I marched triumphantly over the creek with Handel’s “Messiah” blaring in my ears (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=usfiAsWR4qU) .

My exhilaration wasn’t due to the cardiologist’s good news. I celebrated because God reminded me of the most important lesson learned on my road to spiritual discovery. His grace is sufficient. It doesn’t matter what the future holds for me. The final outcome isn’t in my hands anyway. I just need to go with it and fully appreciate and enjoy the life He has given.

God’s Grace is Sufficient (Part 1)

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Looking out to my backyard on a beautiful summer day

A couple of weeks ago, I was sitting alone at the kitchen counter hunched over a bowl of oatmeal, bananas, blueberries, and walnuts. I stared out through the kitchen bay window at the backyard garden above the retaining wall. A hummingbird was hovering over the yellow hibiscus flowers and miniature red roses that were in full bloom. As I dipped the spoon into the hot cereal, I was lost in thought.

I was thinking of the 4th of July week. Erica has been home plotting her next move after graduating from college. Marisa flew in from New York to spend time with us and Sandra took the week off. Movies, dinners, binge-watching Netflix, and an annual Independence Day campout with family and friends filled our days and nights. We shared many laughs, recounted old stories, and created new ones.

People always say that having a great time surrounded by family and friends is supposed to be the very essence of what defines happiness. Social media posts abound confirming that belief. Yet, throughout that week and the next, a faint gnawing churned in my stomach. The good times and the wonderful company merely masked what was going on in my mind.

While sipping water with my breakfast, my attention turned to why I wasn’t overwhelmed with cheer. The past 9 years have been a bumpy ride. There was the horrifying summer of 2010 followed by 8 years of managing heart failure. Dealing with medication, exercise, and diet filled my daily to-do list. Maintaining a disciplined routine worked until my heart started showing signs of severe wear and tear.

An expectation of better days ahead came last fall when I qualified to be placed on a heart transplant list. In the meantime, a surgically implanted LVAD mechanical heart pump would keep me stable until a donor heart became available. My heart and lungs decided not to cooperate with the surgery, so the ride got bumpy again. Five days of uncertainty evaporated the hope of a smooth transition.

The road back from the complicated surgery in November has been steady. I feel better than I have in years. Getting reactivated on the transplant list is the next step for me. But first, doctors wanted to make sure that my lungs could get through another major open-heart operation. That meant another round of tests and more evaluation.

The anticipation of getting back on the list had been weighing on me for the better part of a month. The festive week with the girls being home and the family campout provided some relief. But, the fact is that I’m sick, very sick. Reality is always there slung over my shoulder in a black satchel that carries the equipment connected to the LVAD attached to my heart.

There are no days off living with advanced heart failure. Taking a “cheat day” from my strict diet isn’t an option. It’s low-salt, low fat for every meal every day. Relaxing and unwinding over a couple of cocktails after a long day is out of the question. Forget hot dogs and beer on the 4th of July. While coping with the physical challenges of the illness is extremely difficult, the psychological and emotional impact can be paralyzing.

The American Heart Association estimates that nearly 40% of patients with chronic heart disease suffer from depression. Anxiety and other psychological maladies make that number even bigger. Throughout my illness, I’ve waged a brutal battle with depression and anxiety. For years, I struggled to comprehend why this all happened to me. I resented being “cut off” at the prime of my life. These kinds of thoughts are common for someone with a chronic illness.

After finishing the oatmeal, I stood at the sink washing the bowl, spoon, and water glass. I reminded myself that I’ve been on a 9-year journey to learn how faith can help conquer those destructive thoughts. Throughout my trek through spiritual self-discovery, faith has helped me rise above the negative spirits that occupy my soul.

Nevertheless, while staring out the window again, the demons danced around my head. What if the tests showed that my lungs couldn’t handle another major surgery? What if the CT Scan of my chest revealed scarring from nearly a decade of the heart and lungs struggling to keep me alive? What if I have to be on the LVAD for the rest of what’s sure to be a short life?

I focused on taking steady breaths as I wiped the dishes with a dry towel. I’d been in this place of doubt plenty of times. The evil spirits in my mind were trying to pull me in a downward spiral. I was pulling in the other direction to lift myself up to a place of calm and trust. Since I embarked on this journey, faith always swept in to save the moment. This time, faith came through again.

Feeling less anxious, I sat on the family room sofa and turned on the morning news. I always do this before going on my daily walk to check in to see what kind of mess Donald Trump has caused. Suddenly, my cell skipped on the coffee table as the vibration mode indicated that a call was coming in. The number on the caller ID was all too familiar: +1 (408) 851-1000, Kaiser Santa Clara Medical Center.

The digits on the caller ID displayed the medical center’s general number. The person on the other end could be any one of the people on the amazing team of professionals managing my healthcare. I get regular calls from the team. Scheduling appointments, sharing lab results, or giving instructions for the next exam are typical topics during the calls.

Earlier that morning, my cardiologist was scheduled to present my reactivation case to Stanford, the location of the transplant surgery. I expected him to call, but not until later in the day. As I reached for the smart phone, the demons began their dance again. Is it the cardiologist? Does he have good news? Does he have bad news? Was the meeting cancelled?

When I answered, it was the doctor’s soothing voice that greeted me. It was good news. The laboratory results were positive. The lungs were stable. Everything looked good. And, oh yeah, my name was reactivated on the heart transplant list effective immediately. I expressed my deepest gratitude to him and his team for caring for me with such commitment and professionalism.

I sat back on the comfy couch, closed my eyes and took a deep breath. I thanked God, made the sign of the cross, and took another deep breath. When I emerged from that serene moment, I called Sandra to share the doctor’s update. I don’t exactly remember her response, but I could feel her warm hugs through the smart phone. I sent texts to the girls next. After exchanging celebratory messages with them, I went to the bedroom to get ready for my walk.

To be continued…

It’s Time to Move On

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With my mom and dad ca. 1966 (part of a family photo).

It’s been 53 days since I last posted on ESEReport.com. With that blog entry, I set the stage for how my story could enlighten others by sharing my journey to understand faith, hope, and love. What caused the delay in my writing? Facing the truth without conditions

The fact is that I’m sick, really sick. Period.

That reality is always there slung over my shoulder in a black satchel that carries the equipment connected to the LVAD pump attached to my heart. For the past six weeks, I’ve been frozen in time unable to move forward. All of a sudden, nothing made sense again. My journey took another unplanned detour on the road to enlightenment. I was plunging into the proverbial funk.

I was trapped in my own mind, dwelling on “what if.” Just when it seemed that I understood the meaning and value of faith, I was paralyzed with uncertainty and confusion. I tried to write my way out of it. That didn’t work. I wrote and deleted words again and again. I checked in with St. Paul and the Buddha as I always do when faith is being evasive. Their words made sense as usual, but doubt and insecurity persisted.

Then…two nights ago, I had a dream about my parents.

My dad died in 1995 and my mom passed away 8 years later in 2003. It’s been a while since they’ve come to me in my sleep. When I see them, I’m always the little boy that feels secure and alive playing in the backyard at 48 Viewmont Avenue or the teenager walking through the house after hanging out with friends to let my parents know I was home safe and sound.

In the dream the other night, I was a grown man walking up to the front door of the house I’ve shared with Sandra and the girls for 22 years. When I opened the door, I stepped into the modest living room at 48 Viewmont. The images were vivid. I walked by the linoleum topped counter that separated the kitchen and dining room and peered into the kitchen of my boyhood.

As I entered the narrow hallway that led to three small bedrooms, I popped my head into what we used to call the Girls Room. Laying in one of the twin beds was my grandma who lived with us for her final years when I was about 10 years old. She smiled sweetly and said, “Hi mijo.” I waved and smiled back at her as I turned to the Boys Room. It looked just like I left it some 30 years ago.

While moving about the house, I wasn’t feeling the usual sensations of safety and comfort. My stomach was churning. I felt scared and uncertain. I was emotionally lost in one of the few places on earth that made me feel safe. When I opened my parents bedroom door to let them know I was home, they were peacefully asleep on their double bed.

My mom lifted her head to see who was at the door. Her loving smile quickly faded to a look of concern. “Come in, mijo,” she said. “What’s wrong?” I began sobbing uncontrollably. “I miss you, mom, I miss you so much.” She motioned me over, embraced me tightly, and told me to get back to my family and go back to work.

I went over to my dad’s side of the bed. Before I could say anything, he peeked over his bare shoulder and looked at me with that piercing furrowed brow. In a stern voice, he said. “Your mother’s right, Eddie. Go back to work!” I wanted to hug him before I left, something we rarely did. With his familiar and charming smile, he reached out to me, held me close, and told me that everything was going to be okay.

A warm feeling of gratitude and purpose enveloped me as I slowly walked out of my parent’s bedroom and through the mist that encircled the dream.

I’m back in front of the laptop today. My heart is flowing and my mind is clear. The way to faith is a rocky one for sure. There will be roadblocks and a steady flow of debris along the way. But it’s a road worth traveling. I hope sharing my journey helps find a way to clear the clutter that prevents others from living a life full of faith, hope, and love.

Keep an eye out for my next post…it’s coming really soon! In the meantime, take another look at the set-up post for the final episodes to my story. Here it is once more from May 31, 2019: https://esereport.com/2019/05/31/so-what/

It’s worth reading again before moving on to explore more about how faith has given me the spirit to soldier on.

So What!

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Together on the historic Great Lawn at St. John’s University – Queens New York – May 19, 2019

I studied history at San Jose State University. A professor who had a major influence on me was one Dr. Feliciano Rivera. His expertise was in Mexican and Mexican American history. He literally wrote the book on Chicanos in the United States. The old professor always provided an insightful and entertaining take on historical events and their implications.

He paced the front of the classroom like a caged lion and his voiced boomed as the subject matter captured his passions. Probably in his early 70s at the time, his white hair contrasted sharply with dark weathered skin. He had a black eye-patch over one eye. No one dared to ask how the patch came to be.  He was an imposing – almost menacing – figure in class.

I’ll never forget the opening remarks from the first class I took with him. He rattled off a series of dates and names, paused while banging his fist in the air, and said, “so what!” Those were perhaps the two most consequential words in my college studies. The professor’s point was that the study of history wasn’t merely memorizing date and names, rather it was about understanding the meaning of events.

I used the research techniques and writing skills that I learned in college to bring my story to life. I introduced Summer in the Waiting Room on this blog on December 4, 2013. On two occasions, once in 2015 and again in 2017, I announced to readers that I was finished with the story as my health situation had been stable for several years.

By the beginning of 2018, my health took a turn for the worse. The year was dominated by a lengthy and comprehensive heart transplant evaluation. Life threatening open heart surgery to implant a mechanical pump onto my heart closed out the year. There were more stories to tell.

There is still one more step to go in my health journey – a heart transplant. Since that will happen only when God decides that the time is right, now is a natural point to bring the story to a conclusion. After 5 ½ years of sharing countless dates and many names and some 75,000 words later, the two words that defined Professor Rivera’s lectures swirl in my mind. So what!

In the end, my story is a classic cause and effect proposition. Over the span of 9 years, a series of nearly catastrophic health crises and miraculous outcomes caused me to dig deeply into my soul in search of understanding. The effect has been a rich spiritual understanding of the preciousness of life.

I’ve spent an overwhelming majority of my 55 years caught in the vortex of worldly demands – the mortgage, college tuition, career advancement, etc., etc, etc. I didn’t have time to think about the meaning of life, nor was I very interested. Reflections on faith and philosophical questions didn’t fit in my daily calendar of business meetings and family time.  Plotting my next career move took precedence over understanding and accepting God’s plan for me.

That’s all changed now. More than once, God brought me to the edge of life in this world. Each time, He decided to keep me around. These miracles have given me the time to think about the questions that could shed light on the beauty of life uncorrupted by real-world burdens. With his thoughts on faith, hope, and love, St. Paul the Apostle has been my spiritual guide for these reflections.

The final leg of my spiritual journey started about a year ago when my cardiologist asked me to share any goals for a receiving a mechanical heart pump and ultimately a transplant. Without hesitation, I answered that my short-term goal was to see our youngest daughter graduate from college, which was one year away. “That’s doable,” the doctor responded.

Last week, we accomplished that goal. Sandra and I traveled to New York to see our daughter Erica walk across the stage at St. John’s University. The added bonus was spending time with Marisa, our oldest daughter who works in NYC. Just 6 months earlier, I was fighting for my life in the ICU.

With the ever-present black LVAD bag holding the equipment that helps keep my heart pumping slung over my shoulder, I waited with Sandra and family members who made the trip with us. About 15,000 others watched with as the graduates marched onto the university’s historic Great Lawn to the SJU marching band’s rendition of “Pomp and Circumstances.”

When Erica’s name was called, I proudly stood up and clapped. All went silent and it seemed as though I was alone while smiling broadly with pride. The whole scene was like a slow-motion video. A split second later, I joined my family by whooping and hollering in celebration of Erica’s milestone. A million thoughts rushed through my mind as I could feel St. Paul hugging me with faith, hope, and love.

I’ve spent much time reading, thinking, and reflecting about the how these three words have given light to the way I now see the world. The words are everywhere on social media and in daily conversations. Usually they appear when people experience pain and crisis or moments of bliss and high spirits, all worldly sensations.

My health crisis and spiritual journey have opened my heart and taught me to appreciate the power of believing in faith, hope, and love all of the time, not just in times of need or during fleeting moments of happiness caused by accomplishment or material gain. I hope you join me for the final three Summer in the Waiting Room blog posts where I’ll explore how my understanding of these powerful concepts changed my life.

So what?

I wholeheartedly believe that I’m now on the path to someday experiencing pure spiritual joy and happiness.

That’s what!

 

 

 

 

 

 

Am I Adding Value?

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I’m ready to walk!

I go through the same ritual virtually every day. After a breakfast of oatmeal and fruit, I get ready for a walk through the neighborhood. Due to the brisk winter weather, my uniform includes a pair of jeans, sweatshirt, jacket, and Warriors beanie. Once outside, I flip the hoodie over my head, place the earplugs into my ears and off I go listening to music and letting my mind wander.

Recently, the thoughts meandering though my head have been less than uplifting. For the past month or so, I’ve been on an emotional roller coaster. On one hand, my health is improving on a daily basis. On the other hand, my next door neighbor passed away of a massive heart attack. He was my age. A week later, a dear friend’s son also passed. He was in his 20s, around the same age as my daughters. A few weeks ago, Tía Marta from Sandra’s side of the family breathed her last breath. She treated me as one of her own.

Since my odyssey with heart disease began, I get more reflective when someone passes before I do. I’ve had a heart attack, experienced cardiac arrest, endured a medically induced coma, and struggled again years later in the ICU after open-heart surgery complications. Yet, I’m still here.

No matter that my faith gives me a deep understanding of acceptance, experiencing another person’s death is now prefaced with the same gnawing questions. Why does God choose to take good people too early? Why does He continue to spare me? What have I done that is any more valuable than anyone else? Am I adding value?

That last question is what preoccupies me the most. From a young age, my dad encouraged me and my siblings to get an education. He told us that college was the path to a comfortable life (i.e. more money). Society told me the same thing. A former boss would pop his head into my office every morning and ask, “García, are you adding value today?” It was his daily reminder that my job was to either save or make money for the company.

These life lessons defined my understanding of success, value, and worth. As readers of ESEReport know all too well, God threw a wrench into that notion for me 9 years ago. In an instant, I went from my family’s breadwinner to someone who spends a majority of time and resources on staying healthy and alive.

These thoughts ultimately lead to me questioning my own worth. Despite overcoming the physical challenges of heart disease time and time again, the emotional and psychological recovery continues to tug at my insecurities. Based on society’s perception of a “successful” man and my own learned expectations, I always ask myself, “What value do I add?”

Then, Tía Marta taught me a lesson.

She was born in a small town in Mexico and spent most of her life in a farming community near Fresno where she worked in the packing sheds during the harvest season. Financially, she had little to offer the world. By most definitions of “value” in American society, one could conclude that she didn’t make much of a contribution.

She dedicated her life to loving and taking care of Tío, her children, grandchildren, and great granddaughter. When we visited, she was usually stationed next to the stove making something delicious – and not very healthy, by the way – or standing in the small kitchen with her arms resting on the high back of a dining room chair enjoying the company of her guests.

She listened with a caring ear and uttered few words, usually encouraging comments about faith and hope. It seemed at times that she wasn’t physically present because she listened much more than she spoke. Nonetheless, her unwavering faith in even the most terrible of times filled any room she occupied.

When my family endured that awful summer in the waiting room nearly a decade ago and again last fall, Tío and Tía were among the first to arrive. She would sit next to Sandra offering prayers, encouragement, and hope. Most times, she just sat quietly letting her aura of hope radiate throughout the room.

At her funeral, I learned that I wasn’t the only recipient of her prayers and devout faith. For 40 years, she was part of a small group of women that studied the bible each week at the home of one of the community elders.  Tía’s offerings of faith spread well beyond her house and her family. The leader of her prayer group regaled mourners with stories about her spiritual value to the community.

The family bestowed upon me the honor to eulogize Tía on their behalf. I reached out to her children and grandchildren to learn more about the woman they called Mom and Nana. They shared stories about her love for them, her cooking, and her role as the rock of the family. Their anecdotes inspired me to base the eulogy on faith, hope, and love as envisioned by St. Paul the Apostle.

During my preparations, I also wanted to know how many people to expect and who would attend to ensure that the eulogy properly honored her memory. Her son told me that they expected a small gathering, mostly family. Something told me, most likely God, that I should prepare comments for a wider community.

I wanted to say the right thing. I wanted to honor her and her family in a way that she deserved. Upon on arriving at the church, Sandra and I saw a sprinkling of people congregating in the aisle. Once the service started, I sat in the front pew, nervously listening to the pastor and the community elder eulogizing Tía.

When I rose and walked to the podium, I turned to look at the gathering and thanked God for preparing me for a larger vision of who she was. The standing room only assembly of people spilled out to the vestibule and outside the doors in front of the church. It was amazing and exhilarating to see how many lives she touched.

This brings me back to the definition of “value” and my struggle to overcome misplaced musings about my own worth, or lack thereof. In death, Tía Marta’s life reminded me that value shouldn’t be measured by just dollars and cents. She added value every day to her family, her community, and the world without having a large bank account to demonstrate her worth.

My spiritual journey continues. God will keep providing me with guidance and life lessons in a way that only He can. I have to listen to His message and practice what I preach by not placing so much value on society’s expectations of me. I have a long way to go, but I know that I’m moving in the right direction.

Thank you, God.

Sandra Peralta, Badass

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Christmas 2018

Early last Wednesday morning, Sandra sat alone in the lobby of the cardiac procedures unit at Kaiser Santa Clara Medical Center. The bright lights and intensity of the cardiac ICU faded into the background of the joyous Christmas and New Year season. Inside the unit, a surgeon was replacing the implantable cardioverter defibrillator (ICD) that was placed into my chest in 2011.

An ICD is a small device designed to deliver a shock to a heart that goes out of rhythm. A surgeon cuts a 3-inch incision into the upper chest and places the ICD into the tissue. It’s like dropping the device into the breast pocket of a dress shirt. Waiting while a surgeon performs a procedure on her husband is old hat for Sandra. She felt lonely and helpless as usual, but put the outcome in God’s hands as always.

A little more than an hour after she left me in the surgical prep area, the surgeon came out to the lobby to tell Sandra that the procedure went perfectly. Shortly after that, she was in the recovery room laughing at my corny jokes caused by the light anesthesia. On doctor’s orders, I spent the night in the hospital for observation.

Over the past 9 years, Sandra has endured over 120 nights in the hospital to be by my side. This time, I finally persuaded her to go home and sleep in her own bed. The past two and a half months have been especially hard on her. Reluctantly, she agreed to go home. Alone in a dark hospital room, I thought about her and our life together.

To borrow a phrase from today’s young and ambitious women, Sandra is a badass. When we met, I was like a ship floating aimlessly in the vast ocean. I had big dreams and ambition without focus or purpose. As Sandra still says, I’m a dreamer. As our relationship grew, so did the dreams and ambition. When I fell in love with her, my life’s purpose came into focus.

For those who don’t know, let me tell you who Sandra Peralta is. She’s an amazing mother who continues to guide our two adult daughters. She was a star student in grade school, ASB president at her high school, and an award-winning elementary school principal (2013 Silicon Valley Principal of the Year). She’s done it all with the utmost grace, integrity, and compassion.

She would vehemently disagree that being my life partner has been the most challenging part of her life. But, it’s true. While I traveled around the country as a corporate executive, Sandra took on the lion’s share of raising our two wonderful girls. When I knocked on doors campaigning for public office, she walked door-to-door with me. She has been my guardian angel since a heart attack changed all of our lives in 2010.

I’m a driven and independent man. No matter the circumstance – chasing professional success or living with compromised health – my love for Sandra has always led me to support her dreams and daily obligations. But let’s face it, living a full life with a compromising illness can’t be done alone. Even stubbornly independent people like me require substantial support.

Since open heart surgery in November, I’ve been pretty high maintenance. I haven’t been cleared to drive, so Sandra takes me to the many doctor appointments. The dressing for the wound on my chest needs to be changed daily. I have a small opening in my abdomen for the electrical wire that powers the pump connected to my heart. That needs to be dressed every other day.

Sandra changes the dressings every evening despite managing a full work schedule and helping her sisters care for elderly parents. She learned how to dress the wounds from the LVAD team at Kaiser. I want to take over these responsibilities, but she’s not ready to delegate them to me. I could insist to do it myself. However, if I’ve learned anything in our 30-plus years together, insisting isn’t such a smart idea.

We both have heard many stories about how chronic illness breaks up marriages and causes irreparable harm to families. In fact, according to the AARP, “the divorce rate for couples in which one spouse has a serious chronic illness is as high as 75 percent.” This is especially the case in younger couples. I was 46 and Sandra was 43 when disaster struck in 2010.

Financial stress and lifestyle changes that limit activity are major reasons that lead to tense marriages. Our annual income dropped significantly when I could no longer command an executive salary. With a hefty mortgage and two teenage daughters looking ahead to college, our finances were stretched to the limit overnight. Family gatherings, community events, and our social calendar took a backseat to the illness.

Added to those trials, depression and anxiety in a chronically ill partner bring feelings of inadequacy, self-loathing, and shame to an already strained relationship. For caregivers, fatigue, impatience, and resentment seep into their daily lives. Together with financial and lifestyle changes, the mental health of the couple is a train wreck waiting to happen.

Sandra and I have experienced and continue to face all of the tests that confront a couple with a chronically sick partner. In his oft-quoted first letter to the Corinthians, St. Paul the Apostle wrote that love, “always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.” Somehow, Sandra, the girls, and I have persevered.

I truly believe that Sandra’s strength is the reason that we’ve weathered so many storms. She has an unshakeable faith in God, an uncompromising will, and a limitless reserve of hope. More important, she truly loves me, Marisa, and Erica. St. Paul also wrote, “And now these three remain: faith, hope, and love. But the greatest of these is love.” That’s Sandra.

I can’t help but wonder at the amazing gifts that God bestowed on her. I’m eternally grateful that He made our life together the primary beneficiary of her talents. She has many titles: Mother, Daughter, Sister, Wife, Comadre, Caregiver, Teacher, Principal, School District Administrator. Yup, she’s a badass!