By Jim Melwert
PHILADELPHIA (CBS) – It’s been a quite a year for a Harleysville man, as he became the first cancer survivor and heart-transplant recipient to complete 140.6 miles of an Ironman triathlon. And he did it twice.
Not long after he turned 30, Derek Fitzgerald was diagnosed with non-Hodgkins Lymphoma. The treatment saved his life, but it nearly destroyed his heart.
“You just get weaker and weaker and weaker, and every night I would go to bed and I would wonder, ‘am I going to wake up tomorrow?’ And that’s pretty much the way it was for seven years.”
After he collapsed in his doctor’s office in late December, 2010, Derek was admitted to the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania, where he received a new heart on January 3, 2011. He woke up from surgery, and heard a strange noise, a noise he hadn’t heard for several years: the beating of his own heart:
“It was an overwhelming experience, and I knew I how incredibly, incredibly fortunate I was.”
But he also realized what the family of his donor was going through:
“Not knowing who my donor was, or who my donor family is, I knew that I would do my best to honor this person.”
Listen to Jim’s full interview with Derek…