The greatest gifts come from the heart—and in the case of one special donor, of the heart.
Curtis Abplanalp of Wellsboro is used to being on the go. He has been a truck driver all his life—driving tractor trailers, hauling coal from mines to power plants, and working for the postal service. But one fateful morning, a massive heart attack stopped him in his tracks at age 35. Thanks to the quick-thinking and life-saving treatment of Dr. Donald Shaw and Soldiers + Sailors Memorial Hospital, Abplanalp survived the encounter, but the gears were set in motion on worsening heart failure.
Following another heart attack at age 42, triple by-pass surgery, and heart reconstruction surgery, it became clear that he had one real option at preserving his quality of life: a heart transplant. “I couldn’t walk 50 feet without reaching for the nitro spray,” explains Abplanalp. “I had constant chest pain, a right-side catheter and other procedures had become unfeasible. When I landed in the hospital yet again, I really thought my time had come, but through medication, I was able to hold on. One day, they called and said ‘what would you say if you had a new heart?’ Well, I’d be speechless.”
At age 51, Abplanalp got that moment of speechless gratitude; he received his new heart from Craig MacLaren, a young man out of Tennessee with a passion for fishing, ATV riding and mountain trails. MacLaren, 30, had only been married a year when a tragic accident took his life, but his love for his family and community lived on to touch the lives of Abplanalp and four others.
Despite the joy of having a new lease on life, the road back to recovery was no easy task. With his rock—his wife Jeannie—by his side, Abplanalp took it one day at a time. “I came home in a wheel chair, my muscles ravaged, but I learned to just take a few steps at a time. Baby steps. This morning, I walked a little over 3 miles, and now every year I enter a 5K.”
Once he navigated the initial obstacles in his recovery, Abplanalp grew stronger by the day. He passed the DOT exam and drove trucks again for a while simply to prove to himself he could still do it. Thankful for each day, he reached out to his donor’s family to express his gratitude. “I was lucky enough to not only speak with my donor’s family, but to get to know them. Meeting my donor’s mom was everything I had wished for—it was life-changing. I never got to meet Craig, but I feel I know him through his mother and his wife. He and I share some interests, especially ATV riding. When I ride, I have a picture of him with me, so I always say ‘Craig and I are going to hit the trails;’ he was a bit of a hellion, so he fits in really good here,” he laughs.
“Craig’s mother sent me this wonderful drawing his wife had done of him jumping the ATV in their front yard, and when she requested a photo of me and my wife, I parked my ATV behind us and knelt holding that framed artwork. She loved that.”
Abplanalp’s experience has inspired him and those around him to sign up and promote organ donation in the community. “Organ donation can create something bright and beautiful out of tragedy. A few years ago, there was a story of two transplant patients who met through their transplant journey, fell in love and got married. That woman received my niece’s heart. What a small world. It feels like things came full circle.”
These days, Abplanalp is happy to report he is “feeling great” and maintaining his health under the expert, compassionate care of his primary care physician Dr. Edmund Guelig. “Awesome, awesome, awesome—that’s the only way to describe him. Dr. Guelig has taken care of me from almost day one. He is such a good man, and he monitors my condition so thoroughly—makes sure everything is going according to plan.”
On April 23, he celebrated the 10th anniversary of his transplant, commemorating it with his participation in a 5K Run-Walk and by raising the donor flag in Soldiers + Sailors Memorial Hospital’s Gift of Life “Donate Challenge” kickoff.
Becoming an organ donor takes less than a minute, but its impact can last a lifetime. For more information or to register to become a donor, visit donors1.org.