There is not a day that goes by in which Kelvin does not spend a few moments thinking about Jan. 18, 2014.
“That was the day I got a second chance at life,” Kelvin, 38, says matter-of-factly. “It was the day I received my new heart.”
It was also a day many years in the making.
At the age of 18, Kelvin, a Chicago native now residing in Freeport, began experiencing headaches. A visit to the doctor revealed he had high blood pressure. Doctors prescribed Kelvin medicine to combat the hypertension, but he opted against taking the pills for fear he would become dependent on them for the rest of his life.
“I just thought that if I curbed some of the things I was doing I wouldn’t have to take the medication,” he said.
Seven years later Kelvin said he became “extremely sick” and was experiencing shortness of breath and had trouble walking up a flight of stairs. He decided to return to the doctor and was given a stress test during which he passed out and had to be rushed to the hospital where he was diagnosed with congestive heart failure.
In 2011, Kelvin had an appointment at Rush University Medical Center to have a defibrillator and pacemaker installed. He remembers little from the appointment because after the procedure doctors shocked his heart to make sure the devices were working properly and he ended up going into cardiopulmonary arrest and was placed in a medically induced coma for more than two weeks.
While in the coma doctors implanted a left ventricular assist device in Kelvin’s body to help receive blood from the left ventricle and deliver it to the aorta. Approximately a year later Kelvin had his name added to the heart transplant waiting list with the United Network for Organ Sharing.
“The LVAD was a bridge to [a heart] transplant and I could live with it but I wasn’t sure for exactly how long,” he said.
It appeared like Kelvin would not have to live with the LVAD for long because in November of 2013 doctors phoned him to say a heart had been found.
Kelvin, who works as a disc jockey under the stage name “DJ Flash,” was actually preparing to DJ a cousin’s wedding when he received the call.
“I rushed home and prepared a bag for the hospital and headed over,” he said. “I had so many emotions because I knew that the call would come but you are never really prepared.”
It turned out the heart wasn’t prepared either. Upon closer inspection doctors determined the muscular organ to be slightly bruised and not a proper match, Kelvin said.
Thankfully Kelvin did not have to wait long for the doctors to call again and when they did on Jan. 17, 2014, they had more promising news.
“I got a call in the evening that a heart had been identified and doctors were almost positive it was a match,” he said. “I was told to stop eating and drinking in preparation of a possible surgery. Then at around 11:30 p.m. they called back to say everything was a go and to come to the hospital.”
The heart transplant a day later was a success, and Kelvin said his life has “certainly improved for the better” since the procedure. He also needed multiple blood transfusions during the procedure as well, he said.
“The shortness of breath when I’m walking is now gone [since the new heart], and just not having to go to so many doctors’ appointments has really improved my quality of life,” he said. “My energy level has improved and I’m able to move around a lot more.”
Forever grateful for his “second chance” at life, Kelvin said he wanted to meet his donor’s family to thank them in person. Arranged by Gift of Hope, a not-for-profit organization providing organ and tissue donation services, the emotional meeting included the donor’s mother listening via stethoscope to her son’s beating heart inside Kelvin.
“It was something I will never forget,” said Kelvin, who has stayed in contact with the family.
As one might imagine, Kelvin is a big proponent of organ donation. When he is not spinning records as a mixmaster on WSRB 106.3 FM or DJ’ing private engagements, Kelvin can usually be found talking to all who will listen about the importance of organ donation. He is a volunteer for Gift of Hope and routinely talks to high school students in the Rockford area about the importance of organ and blood donation. His website displays a photo of him and Secretary of State Jesse White whom he has met at various Donate Life America events. He also was a guest of Donate Life and rode on the organization’s float during the 2015 Tournament of Roses Parade in Pasadena, California.
“Talking about what I went through is like therapy for me,” he said. “I also like to clear up some misconceptions surrounding organ donation. There are people out there who think if they are an organ donor and in a life or death situation that the doctor will not try to save them so they can use their organs. That is just not true. Doctors don’t even check a person’s ID until after [they are deceased].”
Kelvin said his stance on why people should register to be organ donors and schedule appointments to donate blood is the same.
“You never know when you or a family member might need an organ donation or a blood transfusion,” he said. “I strongly encourage people to be blood and organ donors. That gift will help someone else.”
Kelvin said he will never take his “gift” of a new heart for granted. “I’m definitely grateful for everything that has happened,” he said. “It’s very important to me to volunteer my time and tell my story because this is not a gift everyone gets. There are people who die on the waiting list every day. I was one of the ones lucky enough to get one.”