Last month while reviewing my calendar, I came across a reminder that said, “Dad’s 2nd Chance, 1997.” It stopped me for a minute.
Nineteen years ago my dad was one paddle away from death. His heart had stopped. He needed several shocks of electrical current to his heart with a defibrillator to bring him back. I started thinking how proud I am of how he’s made the most of his second chance at life. Then I called him and asked if he’d share his story with all of us in hopes that we can learn from and be inspired by his experience. He said yes!
So, today’s guest post is from my dad. Dr. Paul Gersper is a Professor Emeritus from the University of California, Berkeley. He’s happily married to my mom. They recently celebrated their 60th wedding anniversary. He’s a father of four, and grandfather of ten, and great-grandfather of four. It is my great pleasure to introduce you to my dad.
Shortly after dawn on the morning of July 8, 1997 I suffered a heart attack which rendered me unconscious. Fortunately, my wife, Freda, was with me and called 911. I was rushed to the hospital where, still unconscious, I underwent an emergency angioplasty operation. After being unconscious for 10 hours, I awoke to find that I was strapped to a hospital bed, connected to a battery of instruments, monitors, and IV bags. With only a 3% survival rate for my kind of heart attack, I considered it a huge blessing to have awoken at all. Moreover, this 10-hour period turned out to be the transition between the end of my first life and the beginning of my second life.
My second life turned out to be a glorious opportunity to focus more strongly on the things that mattered to me – my wife, family and friends, helping others with heart conditions, and serving our local community and beautiful country. However, this “second life” did not have such a positive start. This is how my wife describes my state during the period after my heart attack and surgery:
“He was a very broken man. He sunk into a depression. We both were scared and had a baby monitor on him at all times. He sat in a rocker and did nothing. He told me that he wouldn’t see visitors. Then he pulled himself up, took the classes at Kaiser Hospital. He first walked just around the condo, next he walked outside up half a block and back. Soon he was walking a block and back. Before we knew it he was walking more and more. He was on his way to recovery.”
Thank goodness I had this wonderful, courageous woman to support me through such a difficult time. I am beyond blessed that she is still at my side today.
From the beginning of my second chance, I was determined to spend more time with my wonderful wife and with our expanding family. Moreover, we decided that we would do our best to see our children and grandchildren at least once a year, committing to going to them when they could not come to us. This was not an easy undertaking because we had children in the military and our grandchildren were scattered around the world. To date we have made seven trips to Europe and two to Hawaii since my second life began; as well as traveling coast to coast in the United States. Last year, which was our 60th wedding anniversary year, we traveled over 15,000 miles throughout the country to visit with our four children, our ten grandchildren, and all their spouses, as well as our four great-grandchildren. I feel blessed that we have such a big, beautiful family, and that we have been given this chance to spend more time with them all.
We, of course, were continuously together in our travels, but we also decided to spend more time doing special things as a couple. For example, over the past several years we have gone out three to four times a week to theaters, restaurants, and other venues. Planning and taking these outings has enriched our lives in so many ways – new people, new ideas, and new experiences have made even a “normal” week at home into an adventure.
Since 2000, we have both actively served the disadvantaged and needy members of our communities, too. Me with Lions Clubs International and the American Legion. Freda, with Lions International and the P.E.O. Sisterhood. We frequently contribute our time and money to charitable causes, and take the opportunity to work together, at fundraising events.
It wasn’t that I was in a bubble of selfish, separated living before my heart attack. I have always lived according to Winston Churchill’s adage: “You make a living by what you get; you make a life by what you give.” However, being granted my second life, a life that 97% of people who suffer the same kind of heart attack as I did are not lucky enough to get, brought it into extremely sharp focus. I’m here, now, in the moment, and I’m committed to giving, giving, giving – offering all that I am on every level to my wife, family, fellow survivors, my community and country. In doing so, I have given myself the greatest gift of all – the gift of truly living.
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