Transplant Throwback: David Rozelle

David Rozelle, heart transplant recipient

Name: David Rozelle

Age: 86

Home: Kalamazoo, Michigan

Transplant: Heart

Why did you need a transplant and when did it happen?

I had a serious heart attack in 1984 and made it to a hospital where I flat-lined but was saved. Seventeen years later I was deteriorating rapidly and almost died again. I was transplanted on October 15, 2001.

This was more than 22 years ago. How are you doing?

I’m doing fine. I walk about two miles, three days a week. I travel and I work in a food pantry twice a week.

Do you know anything about your donor?

My donor was a 17-year-old man killed in an automobile accident in Newaygo, MI. He was on his way, with a friend, to work at McDonald’s from high school. I have met his family and I correspond with them occasionally.

What are the most meaningful events or experiences you’ve been able to enjoy because of your transplant?

Most importantly, I was able to resume my career as a college professor and retire six years later on my own terms. I was able to travel with my wife, Sandy, overseas and domestically. We recently celebrated our 60th anniversary. I was able to march in 2020 with the Donate Life float in the Tournament of Roses parade in Pasadena.

I competed in both the U.S. and international transplant games a total of 10 times and medaled in each of them. I served on Gift of Life committees and emceed the Michigan Donor Family Gathering twice. I won teaching and service awards from Western Michigan University and I’ve met scores of fellow recipients both in Michigan and across America.

Do you know your donor’s family?

Yes, and I talk with them occasionally. I always begin with expressions of gratitude. I always want them to know what they have given me with their selfless act of charity at the worst moment of their lives. They live a much different life than I do, but we have this powerful bond forged in our common experience. For them, it was an almost unimaginable loss. For me, it was an equally unimaginable gift.

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