Paul Kaika had two young kids when he was diagnosed, unexpectedly, with an enlarged heart, called cardiomyopathy. “My whole life was upside down,” says this Marlborough sales executive, who was facing a poor prognosis. “I didn’t know what was going to happen.” He got a pace maker and modified his active lifestyle. But, within a decade, he received the shocking news that he needed a new heart. “I remember, I was crying, I was really upset because I didn’t realize it was that severe,” says his daughter, Melissa. But, now, five years after a transplant, Paul is thriving. And, his journey culminated last July when he walked Melissa down the aisle.
“I value everything that happens in my life more. Seeing my children grow up is just so great,” says Paul, who waited four months in Hartford Hospital for the organ. “It was a bumpy ride.” During this time, Melissa introduced her dad to music by a local, then unknown, artist named Javier Colon, providing normalcy and comfort. Paul, an avid sports fan, was also motivated by the Celtics 2008 Championship game that he watched from his hospital bed. When Kevin Garnett declared, “Anything is possible,” the phrase became Paul’s mantra. “After the transplant, I felt like I’d been hit by a locomotive,” he remembers. “I guess the first sense I had was, ‘I’m alive, I’m alive’ and that was an awesome feeling.” Recovery was slow and steady, the biggest challenge being the “disconnect” between the heart and brain, a result of the loss of nerve endings, making warm-ups a vital component to physical activity.
See an extended interview with Paul and Melissa below:
“Heart transplant is an amazing process,” says Dr. James Dougherty, a clinical cardiologist at Hartford Hospital, noting that only 2,200 Americans per year have the surgery, yet the need is great. “I think the limiting factor is organ donation.” The number of donors remains static while waiting times for patients are increasing nationwide. But, Dougherty says, despite significant risks, the medical strides are encouraging: “Paul is a living example of that.”
The recent summer nuptials became a symbol of Paul’s success. “When he saw me for the first time in my dress and everything, it was emotional,” says Melissa. She didn’t know her father had a surprise in store. Paul had arranged for Colon, by now a winner of the popular television show, “The Voice”, to play a set at the reception at Hartford’s Bond Ballroom with a view of the hospital. “His speech went on, then Javier walked down the stairs. It was really exciting,” she remembers. But, for Paul, it wasn’t a glitzy move. Turns out, he clung to those simple moments in the hospital, sitting with friends and family, watching sports and listening to music. “They did something that inspired me, that kept me alive in my time of need, and now I was able to give something back,” he says, with tears in his eyes. “Everybody at the wedding was dancing. It’s a memory we’ll never forget.”
>>To contribute your own adventures in motherhood, or to read more from Fox CT reporter Sarah Cody and freelancer Teresa Pelham, go to http://www.ctnow.com/mommyminute. For more information about Donate Life CT, go to http://www.ctorganandtissuedonation.org