TAMPA — They are part of a special fraternity.
They have seen life, death and then life again. Not a lot of people can say that. They meet at Tampa General Hospital to talk, laugh and share their experiences. Most of them have heart valves from cows or pigs and they joke about it. It’s part of their lives and they can kid about it easily because they all share a bond.
They are heart transplant receivers whose lives were saved by someone who died.
The group is known as N.O.T.E., or National Organization for Transplant Enlightenment. It’s hosting the fourth annual N.O.T.E. Golf Scramble on Nov. 2 at Northdale Golf Club and is reaching out to not only get players in the golf tournament (the field is usually packed) but also get the word out that money is needed for transplant patients.
The stories they tell are poignant and sometimes heartbreaking. Andrew Spehr suffered from a virus and needed a heart transplant. He is one of the members of the group who reached out to find the family of the person whose heart gave him new life.
When it comes to transplants, it is possible for those who receive the transplants to contact the relatives of the deceased as long as both parties agree. They have to go through an agency and Spehr decided, when the time was right, he wanted to make contact.
He now practically has a second family.
The donor had a young daughter who was just getting to know her parents when one of them died. Spehr visits the family and the daughter, now 7, gets to literally hear her parent’s heart beat. “It was pretty emotional,” Spehr said. “But meeting the family really kind of broke the ice. I felt like I was part of the family in some way. She never knew the parent, really, so I can help make a connection.”
Ron Lasday is another transplant recipient and he’s a big promoter of donors. “We need to raise money for awareness,” he said. “If we can make the public aware of the need for donors then we have done something right. We have good days and bad days, but we also want to recognize the people that make it all happen and that is what we are all about.”
Jim Britt is a recipient who went from being so tired on the golf course that he couldn’t stand up to becoming the organizer of the golf scramble.
He said one day on the course, he simply had it. He figured it was all over. Then he got his transplant and has been playing several times a week at golf courses all over Northwest Hillsborough.
He said he’s happier and healthier than he’s been in years.
“Things happen,” he said. “The heart is just a muscle and sometimes it is like a rubber band and you can only pull on a rubber band until it breaks.”
The N.O.T.E group meets the first and third Tuesdays monthly at Tampa General Hospital. For information on the N.O.T.E Golf Scramble, call Jim Britt at (813) 917-9698.