On a snowy Sunday morning in January, dsp met up with Derek Fitzgerald and his wife, LeeAnn in Fairmount . LeeAnn recently wrote to us and shared her husband's story.
"Thank you, again, for giving me the opportunity to nominate my husband.
Derek is an extraordinary man who brings hope and inspiration to those around him. Derek and I started dating when we were in high school. We got married 10 years later. Three years after that, he was diagnosed with non-hodgkins lymphoma after they removed a grapefruit-sized tumor from his stomach. After 5 months of chemo, he was on the road to recovery.
Less than a year later, he was lethargic and became easily winded. He found out that the chemo had damaged his heart and he had dilated cardiomyopathy. Over the next 6 years, he learned to live with his condition and we made the most of our life together. The idea of living without him petrified me, but he was always so positive. Any time I would complain about getting older (a gray hair or wrinkle popping up) he would tell me that he can't wait to get old...it beats the alternative!
In the summer of 2010, he was having difficulty breathing and found out that his heart had gotten worse; he was put on the transplant list. The next 4 months were terrifying. Derek couldn't get around well. He had difficulty sleeping, because when he laid down, his lungs would fill with fluid. Eventually he picked up a cold which turned to pneumonia which put him into congestive heart failure. He was rushed to Penn and moved up on the transplant waiting list.
On January 3, 2011 Derek received his "beautiful, perfect new heart", as the surgeon described it. The next day they had him out of bed and walking around. To hear him describe the sounds of his new heart beat would give you goosebumps. They sent him home a week and a half later with a new lease on life. He was determined not to let this gift go to waste. He worked hard to get his body back in shape (his muscled had atrophied while he was sick).
Nine short months after his transplant, he decided to run his first 5K. Two months after that, he did the Philly half marathon with Team in Training to raise money for the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society. Since then he has completed (2) 5Ks, (1) 5-mile run, (1) 10-mile run, (2) half marathons, (1) full marathon, (1) 200-mile relay run, (1) century bike ride, (3) olympic-distance triathlons, (1) Half Ironman, and in September he was named Philadelphia's Adult Male Athlete of the Year at the 2012 Transplant Games of America. Everything he does, is to honor his donor - that is always at the forefront of his mind.
My grandmother keeps asking him if it's out of his system yet, but he's not even close. In 2 weeks, he will be representing Donate Life as he runs in the Carlsbad Half Marathon. In July he will be going to Lake Placid to do a full Ironman - that's a 2.4 mile swim, 112 mile bike ride, and a 26.2 mile run. He and some of his transplant friends just formed Tin Men Endurance Racing to encourage other transplant recipients and raise awareness. The 5 of them will be heading to Arizona in November for another full Ironman. In between he has several more events planned for another full race season.
As you can tell, I am so unbelievably proud of all that he has accomplished and the lives that he has touched through his actions. I have been told many times that I am so strong for going on this journey with him, but I can't imagine it any other way - his positive attitude is what got me through it.
Thank you so much for allowing me to share his story with you."
Derek shares his story with dsp.