With Every Stride He Takes With Transplant Heart, West Florida Man Expresses Unending Gratitude During National Donate Life Month

As healthcare professionals across Florida call attention to the importance of organ donation in April during National Donate Life Month, a west Florida man is particularly grateful for one donor among the more than 11.8 million enrolled in the state’s Joshua Abbott Organ and Tissue Donor Registry.

Just eight months after his heart transplant, the now 56-year-old John Wilder of Port Richey, Florida is able to live life to its fullest, vigorously competing in 10K runs with an eye on competing in the 2024 World Transplant Games.

“Grateful is the understatement of the world,” Wilder says. “With every stride, I think about the donor who gave me life.”

His health outlook wasn’t as rosy back in November 2019 when, after completing the New York City Marathon, his month-long post-race recovery period was marred with shortness of breath. He even found walking to be a challenge. Two months later, his cardiology team discovered a 98% blockage which was seamlessly repaired with the placement of a stent.

Fast forward to June 2021 when, after undergoing hernia surgery, Wilder awoke to learn he had had a massive heart attack. He was transferred to HCA Florida Largo Hospital’s Intensive Care Unit where he was stabilized and ultimately discharged after three weeks of care.

In December 2021, the HCA Florida Largo Hospital Advanced Heart Failure Center, where he had been referred to for ongoing care, found him eligible for the transplant list. Six months later, he received the life-changing call that they had a match – he would receive a new heart. His successful heart transplant surgery took place on June 22, 2022.

Just eight months after his heart transplant surgery and rehabilitation, Wilder and his new heart successfully completed the 2023 8K Publix Gasparilla Tampa run. Next, Wilder ran in the Skyway 10K run above Tampa Bay. Today, with his wife Kim by his side, he runs three miles a day three times a week.  He also bikes up to 10 miles on the weekend.

“I’m grateful for my donor and the millions of Floridians enrolled in the state’s Joshua Abbott Organ and Tissue Donor Registry,” Wilder adds. “To every Florida resident who has signed on to be a donor, I say thank you.”

According to the Donate Life Florida 2021 Annual Report:

  • Florida ranks third in the nation in organ and tissue donor registry enrollment;
  • As of December 31, 2021, 11.8 million individuals were enrolled in the Joshua Abbott Organ and Tissue Donor Registry (a 138% increase since July 2009, when the new registry was launched); and
  • 70% of the state’s counties have donor designation rates of 50% or higher.

Florida’s organ, eye and tissue registry is named for Joshua Abbott, the recipient of a lung transplant who passed away in 2006. Abbott’s story so moved the Florida legislature that, in 2009, Florida Agency for Health Care Administration chose Donate Life Florida to create a statewide donor registry to increase enrollment and educate Floridians about donation.

According to Donate Life America, www.donatelife.net, more than 100,000 people are waiting for lifesaving organ transplants. Every nine minutes another person is added to the national transplant waiting list.

In 2022, 42,887 organ transplants were performed in the United States, an increase of 3.7 percent over 2021 and a new annual record, according to data from United Network for Organ Sharing which serves as the national Organ Procurement and Transplantation Network under federal contract.

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