Follow My Heart
When I finished cycling 3,168 miles across the United States back in 2012, I was pretty confident my body, and the current direction of my life were both good in a place. I had just celebrated my six years cancer free and was excited what life after my ride looked like. Things are not always as they seem.
Fast forward to 2017; A few days after receiving a promotion at my new job, I was making dinner in my apartment when I started feeling an incredibly strong pain in my chest, left arm and the left half of my jaw. After being rushed to the ER, an undergoing several tests, the nurses confirmed I was indeed having a heart attack. That was how we found the golf ball sized clot in the left ventricle of my heart.
Being located in the left ventricle, meant that I was in extreme risk of stroke. In the event that even the slightest piece of the clot was to become dislodged, it would be on a one way track in the direction of my brain. My life had shifted once again and I found myself on medication, kept in the ICU for the days to follow, and unable to move without supervision
As fate would have it, medication didn't work, so the next step was to receive a LVAD (Left Ventricle Assist Device) via open heart surgery. Fun. This device was a pump that was inserted into my heart to assist with its function. It was connected to a power cord, that was protruding from the right part of my stomach, and I was either plugged into a wall or connected to batteries 24 hours a day. This little setup was the bridge to heart transplant.
Skipping ahead again, to January 2018, when I had an odd sensation in my chest. No pain, no discomfort, something just felt… off. At this time, I was already going to the hospital to have my weekly blood draw, and figured I'd just head upstairs while I was there to talk with my LVAD team. We found out I had an elevated LDH level, signifying that there was a clot somewhere in my body. I wasn't allowed to go home until the LDH level returned to normal, whatever that level was.
After having an angiogram, we discovered that my LVAD was actually malfunctioning, and I now had two choices:
1. Get a different LVAD (another open heart surgery)
2. Be listed for a heart transplant (another open heart surgery)
I chose to be listed for the heart transplant.
After being a resident of the UCSD Sulpizio Cardiovascular floor for twenty six days, on the last day of my eligibility to be on highest status on the transplant list, and four days after celebrating my 33rd birthday in the hospital, they found a match. My match.
On February 25 2018, I underwent a 12 hour open heart surgery to replace my heart, with a healthy heart, and that heart came from 32 year old Navy Flight Surgeon, Lt. James Mazzuchelli.
That confirmed my desire to ride my bike from San Diego, California to Jacksonville, Florida, to meet James' family and pay my respects at the Jacksonville National Cemetery where he's laid to rest.
This ride is not just a singular quest. Beyond meeting James' family and paying my respects, I want this ride to represent hope for anyone who is experiencing heart issues, cancer, or any adversity at all. I want to inspire those who follow me, follow my ride, or even just hear my story. I want to spread the message anyone I can reach to never give up on your life, no matter what your circumstances, no matter how many times you get knocked down. Push harder to achieve what you want, and realize that anything is possible. Never stop dreaming, never stop working hard, and strive to stay positive no matter how impossible it may look.
The fundraising goal is to cover the expenses of the ride for six weeks, and any amount over, will be donated to UNOS (United Network for Organ Sharing).
I chose UNOS for obvious reasons. Mainly to support how easy and important it is to become a donor. James chose to save as many lives as he could, by becoming a donor. Giving life is by far the most precious gift you can give. I hope others in similar situations as myself, are able to be able to receive such an incredible opportunity to continue living and make the donor's family proud.
Every dollar contributed is greatly appreciated and will be utilized in helping us get across the United States and supporting an incredibly important cause.
The campaign will be online until after the ride is complete. I will be posting photos and videos along the ride, keeping you in the loop and a part of this amazing journey.
For more information about the ride and to contact me, please click the link.
Nothing but love,
James was born in New Jersey but spent his life growing up in San Diego, California, and eventually Fleming Island, Florida. After graduating high school with a 4.0 GPA, he went to college in Pennsylvania at Drexel University where he graduated with a business degree. Six months before he graduated, he decided he did not enjoy corporate America and wanted to find a profession that more suited his desire to help people. He decided to become a doctor. It was a mad rush to finish Pre-Med classes, but he worked hard and completed them before graduation. He enlisted in the Navy where he was able to combine his love of tradition, flying and medicine. He had found a career that combined each of his interests in a unique way.
James had a heart that was bigger than life itself. He never looked down on anyone because of their race, background, economic situation or any other trait that made them different. He loved kids, animals, his parents, sisters and family. He always gave whatever anyone needed even if that meant the shirt off his back or his last dollar. If you were lucky enough to call him “Friend” you had a friend for life. James was the kind of guy that left a mark on any life he touched and truly had no idea he had done it.