Arthur Gay is four years and eight months into his second life and is going strong.
"I'm just thankful because I've had almost five years of life that didn't seem possible five years ago," said Gay, a 41-year-old resident of Southeast Washington who was given a heart transplant at the Medical College of Virginia in Richmond Jan. 11, 1973.
"It's just one of those medical miracles," said the personnel clerk at the District's main post office, "Considering how many they've done and how (few) have survived. It's just one of those lucky things.
"The first I remembered when I woke up (after the transplant) was how I could breathe. I told my wife that even if I passed away the next day it was worth it. The only way I could sleep before that was sitting up in a chair."
By the time he arrived in Richmond Gay had used up all his options. He had had a valve in his heart replaced" and progressed pretty slowly for six months but then I started going downhill because (another) valve started acting up."
Tests revealed that Gay's heart couldn't stand the strain of yet another major operation and "one of the doctors came up with the idea of why didn't I try a transplant. All the other organs were in good shape and they felt I could survive it.But they only gave me from six days to six weeks to six months to live without a transplant. I found out later that they classify (the severity of) heart disease from one to four, and the doctors were saying I was a five."
The heart disease had debilitated Gay, who was unable to work for nearly three years and who weighed only 177 pounds, despite being 5 feet 10.
Today, Gay weighs 163, about eight pounds more than his doctors would like. "But most of it is fluid around the middle because of the drugs they keep me on" to prevent rejection of the transplanted heart, said Gay.
Arthur Hay's second life has not come cheap. Gay said he was told his initial surgery and treatment cost between $35,000 and $40,000. He was billed for only part of it, but he declines to say how much. Despite good insurance coverage he has been working to pay medical bills ever since, including those for his annual week to three weeks of tests in Richmond.
Like many dying persons, Gay engaged in what is known as bargaining at the end of his first life, hoping to live in order to see certain things take place, things like his son Arthur Jr.'s graduation from high school.
Unlike most other terminality ill patients, Gay got his wish. His son graduated from Bailou High School in the District in June and his two other children are now in the fifth and 11th grades. All of which, he says, has made the operation worthwhile.