Preparing for Thanksgiving in his Brownwood home, 57-year-old Ramon Cardenas had no trouble articulating what he’s thankful for.
“Basically, my life,” Cardenas, with his wife, Elva, seated next to him, said Wednesday afternoon.
Cardenas received a heart transplant on Jan. 22 in Medical City Hospital in Dallas after doctors determined that his original heart’s left ventricle was working at only 8 to 12 percent efficiency.
He returned to his job as operations manager for TXU a few weeks after the transplant, and has regained the life he had before becoming ill.
Elva Cardenas said her husband had mowed the grass just that morning, and Ramon joked that a visitor should see his messy garage — messy from all the projects he’s started.
“After all the things that have happened the last couple of years, it’s a new life all over again,” Cardenas said.
In an earlier interview, Cardenas said his symptoms began in December 2005 with a chronic cough. As his condition worsened, he found he couldn’t walk from his bedroom to the bathroom without getting tired. He wasn’t strong enough to remove a gas cap or open a bottle of soda.
In July 2006, doctors at Medical City Hospital took Cardenas into surgery and inserted a heart pump called a left ventricular assist device (LVAD). That improved his condition, but doctors had already determined he needed a heart transplant.
His phone rang around 3 a.m. one January morning. The Medical City transplant team had found a heart for Cardenas.
He knows a little about the donor — a 22-year-old man who was killed in an auto accident. He doesn’t know the donor’s name or where he lived. Cardenas said he thinks of the family constantly, and it bothers him that his second chance at life cost someone else’s his.
“I realize I’m lucky because of one person — one person,” Cardenas said. “I would like to meet them and thank them. I don’t think they realize what they really did for me.”
Cardenas has been allowed to send a letter to the donor’s family through a social worker with the transplant team. A reply — which has not yet come — would also come through the social worker.
In April, doctors amputated the lower portion of his left leg after an infection set in that they could not control. Cardenas said he couldn’t fight the infection because anti-rejection drugs had weakened his immune system.
That was disappointing, but it didn’t slow him down. Cardenas quickly resumed normal life with a prosthesis. He hopes to return to coaching youth baseball — something he hasn’t done in three years.
“All I’ve ever asked for is a chance or a choice. I can make it work,” Cardenas said.
For the Thanksgiving holiday, Cardenas said he’s thankful for the ability to watch his family — three sons, four grandchildren (soon to be five), and his extended family — develop and grow.
But it’s also a bittersweet Thanksgiving, Ramon and Elva said, because of the death of Ramon’s sister in August from a heart attack.