I’m twenty-five years old, and a twenty-one year, post-heart transplant recipient. I was born with a rare congenital heart defect known as transposition of the great arteries, which proposed a tragic end to my life if I wasn’t able to get a new heart. Luckily for me, I received my life-saving organ at the young age of three.
The benefit to having an organ transplant at such a young age is that you quickly realize how short life really is, along with how easily it can be taken from you. This all sounds negative, but I promise you it is nothing but positive. Needing a new heart, and realizing my mortality by the age of five – when I was told that heart transplant recipients live on average, ten years post-transplant – uniquely positioned me to be able to live my life with no regrets, a constant appreciation for life, and a new-found wanderlust to see this beautiful world.
The downside to having an organ transplant, and in my case, a heart transplant, is a shorter life span. Mine would top out at forty years old, a mere fifteen years from where I’m at now.
I always knew that I wanted to travel, and experience everything this world had to offer. While I took multiple road trips with my family across Canada, the United States, and Mexico, I knew there was more, and my condition only fed my insatiable desire to see it all. So, at twenty-two, I packed my bags, said goodbye to my family and friends, and left for my first solo adventure – a journey across Asia. The moment I set foot in Bangkok, I was hooked.
On that first trip, I traveled to four countries over four months and loved every minute of the adventure. From descending waterfalls in Vietnam, to hiking along secret beaches in Laos, and getting chased by evil monkeys on Monkey Island off of Koh Tao, Thailand, that first trip gave me a real taste of the world for the first time – close-up, and not on a TV screen. I couldn’t get enough.
Soon after I returned home, I started speaking with my doctors about a longer trip and trying to figure out the logistics. Medication, vaccines, my health status; all the fun stuff. After two years, I had finally worked out all the details, and was astonished to find out that my heart, even after twenty years, was incredibly healthy. Although a few of my doctors wanted a reason to say no, my cardiologist shares my idea of life being short, and even shorter for people like me. So, he said yes, and told me to go out and enjoy my life. With all my struggles growing up, from the transplant to beating cancer, I guess he believed I deserved it.
Traveling has been huge for me; it’s allowed me to get in touch with myself, feel more confident in my abilities (especially when your scooter’s headlights burn out on the side of a main highway in Laos, and you have to drive three hours back to a hostel, with a map that barely works on a phone that is slowly losing battery!) and even come to terms with my impending doom. There’s just something about standing on the edge of a cliff in Laos, staring up at waterfalls that have been there for centuries before you even knew they existed, and knowing they’ll be there long after you’re gone. Somehow that humbled me, and forced me to appreciate all life, even my life, more than I ever did before.
Life really is short. At twenty-five years old, the average man is approximately thirty-three percent done with life, if the average life span is seventy-six. I’m a little different in that my life span is cut at forty years old – half the life of an average man. At twenty-five, I’m sixty-three percent done with my life. So although we all have a limited time on this earth, mine is even more limited. I’m also a firm believer that tomorrow isn’t promised, retirement isn’t promised, and that anything can happen to you at any moment. I choose to do things that make me happy, that put on a smile on my face and keep my spirits high.
This is why I travel. This is why I want to see everything this world has to offer, and why I plan to visit all one hundred and ninety-six countries. It’s also why I quit my job, bought a ticket halfway across the world, and am about to embark on what will soon be the biggest journey of my life, traveling to every country, before it’s too late. Starting, of course, in Thailand.