Whether it was working around the home or out hiking the trails, Steven Fietek says he has always been active. But when Steven turned 52, he started to notice shortness of breath.
"Slowly but surely, I got to the point where the fatigue and the shortness of breath was troublesome."
Steven says he was diagnosed with dilated cardiomyopathy.
"Which I keep telling people, it's a big, big word for weak heart muscle."
A few years later, Steven suffered cardiac arrest. Eventually, he had a left ventricle assist device, or LVAD, put in.
"That's basically a pump that goes into the heart and the chest, you get the control pack that you can wear on your side." But, Steven adds, he didn't feel like he could do what he wanted to do in life anymore.
"My recovery was good. I was fortunate. You know, after transplant, I got stronger. My fatigue got better. I worked myself back into some strength and some conditioning," Steven says. "And, you know, it's been good. This gift of life is just amazing."
Since his transplant, Steven is living life to the fullest.
"I've been able to travel in the last two years," he says. "I've been to Spokane, Washington, to visit my parents and my brother, to Illinois to visit my grandkids, and my wife and I have been to Mexico several times because I love the beach — and (I've been) to Washington, D.C."
With his renewed energy, Steven continues to explore. In January 2023, he traveled to Argentina and Antarctica — a trip that included a true polar plunge.
"I actually jumped into the Antarctic Ocean; the heart survived it just fine. And it's all because of the transplant, because of this gift to life. It's all because of the organ," Steven says.
April is Donate Life Month, a time to raise awareness about the importance of organ donation, and giving people, like Steven, a second chance at life.