By AMERICAN HEART ASSOCIATION NEWS
Donerik Black awoke one night in 2009 in a panic. He couldn’t catch his breath.
His wife, Angie, urged him to relax and try to go back to sleep. He needed to get to the hospital, he told her.
“I’m not a hospital kind of guy,” he said. “Something wasn’t right.”
Tests revealed that his heart’s mitral valve was in full regurgitation and his lungs were 60 percent full of fluid. He’d need his mitral valve replaced.
The procedure was done shortly before Christmas, and cardiac rehabilitation followed. Black was back at work running The Dayton Weekly News on Feb. 15.
“And by the time I celebrated my birthday on February 27th, I was racing BMX bikes and life was good again,” said Black of Dayton, Ohio.
In January 2010, doctors implanted a device that served as both a pacemaker and defibrillator “as a safety net,” Black said. “I didn’t think anything of it.”
Then in June 2013, Black noticed his heart would sometimes speed up – a condition known as ventricular tachycardia, also referred to as VT or V-tach.
“There were times when my heart would go out of rhythm and my pacemaker would kick in,” he said. He visited his doctor and found out his heart had gone into V-tach 400 times during a six-month period.
To figure out what was causing it, doctors needed to get a look inside his heart. But what should have been a relatively simple outpatient procedure ended with Black’s heart stopping. It took 70 shocks and 45 minutes of CPR to revive him.
“Eleven days later I walked out of the hospital with no neurological damage and a renewed sense of purpose,” said Black, who found out he’d need a new heart.
In 2014, at age 44, Black was put on the transplant list.
That year, Black formed a team for the American Heart Association’s Greater Dayton Heart Walk and named it “Racer with a Pacer.”
“Being a part of the BMX community and the only guy racing with a pacemaker, I thought, why not?” he said. “We ended up raising $7,000 and I was really fired up.”
But shortly after the 2014 event, Black’s health quickly declined.
“I was functioning but I was in a chronic state of discomfort,” he said. “I was retaining fluid and couldn’t walk far. I just wanted to see my daughter, Taylor, grow up, but even the highest doses of meds weren’t working anymore.”
In January, Black went to the Cleveland Clinic for his regular appointment and ended up staying in Cleveland to wait for a new heart. The day before his 45th birthday, he got one.
“My heart function today is great. I’m back to racing and I have a new lease on life,” Black said.
“I feel an extreme sense of obligation to spend every day achieving so that my donor’s family will know that his heart went to someone who made good use of it,” he said.
Now pacemaker-free, Donerik’s team for the 2015 Greater Dayton Heart Walk on Sept. 26 has a new name.
“One of my doctors, Monica Robinson, encouraged me, and I told her if she found me a heart I would dance up and down the halls in a pink tutu,” Black said. “Four days after my transplant, I got a package and it had a tutu inside.”
And so, “Team Tutu” was born.
“What better way to culminate my story than to have this tutu represent success,” Black said.
Photos courtesy of Donerik Black