Today is most often recognized as Valentine’s Day but February 14 also shares another important celebration of love – National Donor Day. In honor of today’s focus on love, we invited heart-transplant recipient Roxanne Watson to write about her story. Watson was given the heart of 23-year-old Coast Guardsman Michael Bovill after he was tragically killed in an off-duty accident.
Written by Roxanne Watson.
You can consider me one of the lucky ones. I received a heart transplant, though it took a long time before I could find a doctor to verify that I indeed needed a new heart. I was in the midst of a successful career in retail, working as a general manager for many stores.
I began noticing “glitches” in my health in 2003. It all started with fainting episodes; But after 17 hospitalizations over two years time, diagnoses of Crohn’s disease and endless testing, I was told in 2008 that my heart was failing and I needed to go to Montefiore Hospital for treatment. There, I was immediately put in the advanced cardiac program.
Although I did not have classic heart failure symptoms – my most pronounced symptom being a pain in the back – my heart was indeed sick.
Despite treatment for a year, I was told I needed a heart transplant and I was put on the transplant waiting list. At that time it was a relief to me, because I was so sick, but I was also scared when I thought about what could happen. I knew if there was any chance I was going to live, this is where I needed to be.
I was told four times that a donor heart was available, and three times it didn’t work out; the heart was either not a match or would not fit my chest cavity. My own heart was in such bad shape, doctors finally kept me in the hospital. I was there for 78 days before my transplant coordinator called me on July 15, 2010, to tell me “the transplant is on.”
The heart fit and the operation was a success. Thirteen days after the transplant I was home with my new heart and working on the house. By Christmas time I was dragging my son, Kellen, to buy sheetrock, crown molding and other materials I needed to renovate all eight rooms of my family’s Spring Valley home. We built two home theatres and a 50s themed diner. I had decorated before, but never wanted to do all this work. I felt like my personality had changed.
Later that year I was invited to an episode of “Oprah’s All-Stars,” where I learned the name of my donor: 23-year-old Michael Blaine Bovill of Long Valley, N.J.
Along with learning the identity of my heart donor, the show surprised me by bringing out Michael’s family, triggering a tear fest in the studio.
On that day I learned that my saving angel was a proud member of the U.S. Coast Guard. He was also a helicopter mechanic and a talented carpenter who helped his father, John, build the family home. He enjoyed coming home on leave to visit his family and friends. He loved hanging out with the “Coasties” from his station, his friends and family. He showed joy in his daily routine and was an inspiration to everyone that had the privilege to know him. I will forever be thankful to him and his family for saving my life.
Meeting the Bovill family was truly special. They are the most amazing family. Thanks to their “yes” in their most desperate time, five people, including myself, had a second chance at life and all the recipients were there to say “thank you” to this awesome family.
Nationally, there are some 115,000 people waiting organ transplants. On average, 18 of them will die each day waiting for their transplant. More than 130 people are added to the national organ transplant waiting list every day.
In Michael’s honor, I have dedicated my life to increasing the number of registered organ donors – volunteering at the New York Organ Donor Network – working to increase awareness for the critical need for organ donors to save lives.
I encourage you to register today to become an organ donor, it’s easy and it saves lives. It saved mine. Thank you Michael Blaine Bovill and all the members of U.S. Coast Guard, especially the Coasties at Coast Guard Station Eatons Neck!