Two New Organs and a New Outlook on Life Counting on You

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Marcus Roberts was an athlete for most of his life. Active throughout his school years, he joined the Air Force after high school and later became a Nevada police officer. But his years of service and active lifestyle were halted when his health began to fail.

Marcus’ medical team discovered that both his heart and kidney function were declining. “There was no root cause that they could identify. It was more of … a medical anomaly to a lot of the doctors. It wasn't hereditary, no virus, no disease, or anything like that,” Marcus says.

After five years of being sick, seeking answers, and enduring many, many hospital stays, Marcus received a heart and kidney transplant in 2022.

"Before, I used to limit myself to a plan, a to-do list, and after getting my transplants, that goes out the window because now you're free—you're happy."

Marcus Roberts | Heart and kidney transplant recipient

Ava Kaufman, founder of Ava’s Heart and a friend of Marcus, met him shortly before his transplant. At that time, “he was so thin, he could barely walk. He literally looked … 20 years older than he looks right now,” Ava recalls. “You know, I just gave him a hug and welcomed him and said, ‘You're going be shocked how you are two weeks from today.’”

Post-transplant, his health and strength are improving, and he is already starting to live a fuller life. Since being sick, he’s taken up painting as a form of expression and relaxation. He enjoys all kinds of painting, from watercolor to acrylic to oil.

“[Painting] gives me a different outlook on life because you simply forget everything you're doing,” Marcus says. “And even when I'm painting, I don't even think about what I'm painting. I just paint.”

Read Transcript

MARCUS:

So, painting to me is a expressive relaxation that I developed since being sick. Some very abstract and very simple pieces. Everything from watercolor to acrylic to oil. It gives me a different outlook on life because you simply forget everything you're doing, and even when I'm painting, I don't even think about what I'm painting, I just paint.

I was born and raised in Long Beach, California. Did a lot of sports: I ran track, football, baseball, wrestled. You know I went to school, you know I had my fun in junior college.

It was my cousin's farewell party, going to the Navy, and his recruiter happened to be there, so I walked up to the recruiter, I said, "tell me what I need to do." I was stationed to a squadron, so I was on a on an aircraft carrier. And then, when I went to the Air Force, at that point in time I was 25, and that's when I became a communication specialist. I got out in 2008 from the Air Force and I became a police officer, and I was actually one of my last stint before I had to medically retire from that. That's where my story and journey actually began.

When I was a police officer in the state of Nevada, um, I started noticing that I was becoming a little more sluggish, a little more tired, exerted frequently. That's when I knew something wasn't right because my whole life, I've been physically fit you know; from high school, college, even the military, I ran our fitness program for my squadron. And so, to go from being active–active–active, trying to create a career that I've been wanting to do since I was eight years old, getting sick just really kind of frustrated and upset me. I had gotten to the point where I was having a hard time walking. So, my mother had to push me in a wheelchair to my appointment. I was going in to do a stress test, which essentially is getting on a bike with a breathing apparatus, and you pushing yourself physically just to see how your breathing is. After the appointment, we went down to the cafeteria to eat, I'm still sitting in a wheelchair, my mom has my food in front of me and she goes actually goes to grab some utensils. I start to get light-headed and start to develop tunnel vision. So, I actually passed out. I stopped breathing, I became unresponsive, my heart stopped. So, she actually had to perform CPR on me. And that's when she took to the ER, and that's when they told me I needed my transplant.

While on two heart pumps, one that went through my groin another that went through my neck, my heart function was improving but my kidney function was not. And that's when they determined that I needed a kidney as well. There was no root cause that they could identify. I was more of a… considered a medical anomaly, to a lot of the doctors. It wasn't hereditary, no virus, no disease, or anything like that. They didn't know if it was the kidney affecting the heart, or the heart affecting the kidney. Later that year in December, I received an ICD slash defibrillator. And from there, I'd just progressively gotten worse. So, I was hospitalized between 10 to 15 times between the years 2017, until just recently, up to the point of me receiving my transplants.

With each time it, I hate to say, it got easier. The first time scared me, and I would literally break down crying because I didn't know what was happening. But the last few times it was more or less so depressing, I just didn't care anymore and was hoping it would happen. The day I found out that the heart was at the hospital waiting for me, and all they had to do was examine it to make sure that it was good to go, that was probably, my number three greatest moment. Going from having a heart function of eight percent to a heart function of 67 percent, which is normal, it felt great! But you know you still have those hang-ups because you were so used to being sick that you don't know how to function when you're healthy.

AVA:

When I met Marcus, he was so thin he could barely walk. He literally looked like probably 20 years older than he looks right now. You know, I just gave him a hug and welcomed him and said, "You're gonna be shocked, how you are two weeks from today!"

MARCUS:

I have not dealt with, or been involved with someone or one particular foundation, that actually cares this passionately about transplant recipients. I wanted really just tell her and the foundation, "Thank you!" Because if it wasn't for them, I honestly wouldn't be alive right now.

VALEN:

Just to hear his perspective change from how he was just as a man growing up and then how it was when he was sick to how he is today and that he's enjoying just the simple pleasure of being able to just be. Knowing that before he received his heart transplant, that he'd talk for two to three minutes and he'd be winded and couldn't talk, and it's amazing to think of that version of him because we sat there for over an hour and talked, and he looked great and healthy, and one would never know.

MARCUS:

What am I going to do now? Now that I'm healthy. Now that I have a new heart, a new kidney. Before I used to limit myself to a plan, a to-do list, and after getting in my transplants, that goes out the window because now you're free—you're happy. You don't have to look over your shoulder and wonder if, you know, "Am I going to be here tomorrow?

Well, the ones (patients) that are going through any type of elements where it's terminal, where they would need organ transplants, they, just don't give up. There was so many points in my life where depression and anger sets in to where you want to give up. Just don't.

There's more help than just that person in the mirror and for the people that can help, please do. Because you literally not only change their life, but their lifestyle, the way of life. You know everything that simply about that person just changes.

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