Tyler Montgomery of Port Franks, Ont., is wasting no time making the most of the gift of a second chance at life, one year after undergoing life-saving heart transplant surgery.
Montgomery, 33, was running his family’s construction and renovation business, and always maintained an active lifestyle, when all that quickly came to a pause. At 31, he was diagnosed with congestive heart failure due to a leaky valve.
It was a major shock.
“I thought I popped a rib and I walked into the hospital thinking I’d get an X-ray, but little did I know it was going to turn into all of this really fast,” he said.
“Once I found out I needed a transplant, it was so scary because this is stuff I used to see on TV, and now I was about to live it.”
Within a few days, a matching organ donor was found for Montgomery and he underwent successful surgery at Toronto General Hospital. A few weeks later, he was transferred to the London Health Sciences Centre (LHSC) for followup care.
Last week, to mark the anniversary of his transplant, he first underwent a routine biopsy at LHSC. Then, he got down on one knee and proposed to his girlfriend Keverly.
He said LHSC holds special significance to him.
“What better place to propose to give my heart away than the place that takes care of my heart?” he said. “As cheesy as it is, it’s special. Anyone can propose on a beach, but not many people can propose up in the transplant unit.”
WATCH | Heart transplant recipient Tyler Montgomery pops the question to girlfriend Keverly at London hospital:
Montgomery underwent the transplant surgery at a time when hospitals were heavy into pandemic restrictions, which prevented his family and friends from visiting him in person.
But he didn’t let that break his spirits.
“I had my moments of disbelief, that this can’t be real, but I also had my moments of, ‘What can I do to have the best outcome, what can I do to beat this.’ I don’t wanna give up,” he said.
Even in hospital, he was eager to ‘be active’
Before the transplant, Montgomery said he used to sell himself short when it came to achieving his goals and getting what he wanted out of his life.
The transplant and its recovery have changed his outlook, he said.
Montgomery said he was so eager to get back on his feet that 28 hours after his surgery, he was walking around the intensive-care unit, prompting his health-care team to put a treadmill in his room.
“It was good luck to any nurse who had me,” he said. “I was now fixed, so I’m going to walk and be active.”
LHSC’s transplant co-ordinator, Grant Fisher, said leaky valves can often go undetected for years in younger people like Montgomery, but in his specific case, the heart failure caught up with him a lot sooner.
In Ontario, the wait times for a heart transplant can range from a few months to up to a year, Fisher said. He said Montgomery’s milestone wouldn’t have been possible without a donor.
“I always have to stop and thank everybody who signs their donor card. Without people who give the gift of life, none of the people would be having these milestones like Tyler proposing,” he said.
Montgomery said creating a routine during his time in the hospital was helpful.
“Every morning, I’d wake up, have whatever water I could have because I was on a fluid restriction, and then I’d go for my walk, come back and get my vitals taken, and listen to motivational podcasts. Stuff that would keep my mind going and keep it clear.”
Montgomery and his fiancée are excited to start the new chapter of their lives, made possible thanks to his donor. He also plans to reopen his family business once he’s built back some of his muscle.
The only message he wants to send is don’t stress the small stuff, take chances and live life.
“I learned the very way hard way how fragile life and time is, so the cup’s always half full, never empty no matter what life throws at me, because if I can get through what I went through, it just goes to show what my future will hold.”
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