By Cathy Wharton
For Hometown News
Many of us take our body for granted, that it will keep functioning in relatively good health, and if something goes wrong, our doctor will fix it. We may also take for granted that the smallest, most powerful organ in our body will keep doing what it's supposed to do: Circulate six quarts of blood three times a minute through our 60,000 miles of vessels to each of our 75 trillion cells, all to the tune of 100,000 beats a day.
But for 43 year-old Jack Giles of Daytona Beach, every beat of his heart is a miracle.
In 1999, just one day after his 30th birthday, Jack Giles suffered a heart attack. He was suddenly faced with an operation to have stents inserted to keep his arteries open. After the procedure, things appeared to be normal, and Mr. Giles continued with the business that he had set up six months earlier - A Superior Lock and Security. But a second heart attack sent young Mr. Giles back for more stents. The successive attacks were just the beginning of what would become a long and grinding journey.
In 2004, the big one hit. This time it called for open-heart surgery - and a bypass of five major arteries. Though the operation was successful, Mr. Giles' heart function had dropped to 70 percent capacity. But it wasn't over. In the ensuing years, Mr. Giles suffered two more heart attacks, each requiring additional stent insertion. In 2009, he had a sixth heart attack and a second open-heart procedure. By then, his heart function was down to a perilous 30 percent capacity.
Still, the assault on his health continued. After his second open-heart surgery, Mr. Giles found himself battling even more problems: Pneumonia (due to excess fluid build-up) and severe abdominal pain, which was diagnosed as a hiatal hernia. He was also in need of a gall bladder operation. But such an operation would be too risky without having a pacemaker installed. In 2010, Mr. Giles received both a pacemaker and a defibrillator. The good news is that since then, he has had no further heart attacks. The not-so-good news is that his heart is now functioning at a meager 10 percent capacity.
His greatest challenge, however, is still ahead - a heart transplant.
With only a 10th of his heart functioning, Mr. Giles presented as a prime candidate for a heart transplant. In fact, his candidacy was accelerated due to such low heart function. But "getting there" can be overwhelming. Dr. Glenn Rayos, Mr. Giles' cardiologist, referred his patient to Shands Hospital in Gainesville. The program isn't easy and the criteria is precise. First, the patient must be Medicare-qualified. Second, he must have a minimum of $5,000 in a pharmaceutical holding account (to ensure payment of first-year post-op medication expenses). Third, the patient must have family support.
In 2011, Mr. Giles made the first of five visits to Shands. He then underwent a battery of tests, including testing by social workers, to determine his candidacy. But since he wasn't able to meet all three criteria, he was denied. His disability was still under the two-year requirement, so Medicare would not cover the expenses. Further, he didn't have the $5,000 minimum for the holding account.
On Sept. 1, Mr. Giles' disability status hit the two-year mark. On that same day, Medicare kicked in and a second criterion had been met.
But there was still one more hurdle: The $5,000 holding account. As word got around about Jack Giles' fight for survival, people started pitching in to give what they could. Ike Leary of Granada Bait & Tackle gave the first $100 and many other businesses followed. One man gave $500, while others gave what little they had - including an elderly man who also had suffered a heart attack and kids who offered pocket change.
Another review of Mr. Giles' case was in the works. But in order for it to pass, the $5,000 had to be in place. It was down to the wire. Fortunately, on the last day before the review, Ike Leary once again stepped up. He gave yet another $100. His generous donation put the account over the top, thus meeting the final criterion. It also helped propel the process to the next phase: The list.
The "list" is those who need donors. Mr. Giles is still awaiting notification as to whether he made the list. With only 10 percent heart function, the chances are good that he will. But it also depends on a suitable donor. The blunt truth is that someone has to die in order for someone else to live. And the donor heart must be the right match. The ultimate call will come from Shands. Once a suitable donor is found, Angel Flight will immediately take Mr. Giles to Gainesville. In the meantime, there is more to be done.
In order to meet future (post-op) expenses, additional money will be needed. A number of venues are receiving donations. Wells Fargo has set up a "Jack Giles Fund," and Goliath Radio, WELE, 1380-AM, is having a "radio telethon." Talk show host Roland Via has been getting the word out through his radio show. Not only has this brought more awareness to Mr. Giles' personal struggle, but also to heart health in general. To date, free CPR lessons have increased as have organ donor programs.
"Open your heart and open your wallet. You know you're saving a life. It is critical to understand the importance of a donor," Mr. Via said. "Have a heart, give a heart."
Headquarters for the fundraising is County Tire, 1130 S. Nova Road, Ormond Beach. Owner-manager Belinda Heffner is coordinating the effort and accepting donations in any amount. Also, D.B. Pickles, 400 S. Nova Road, Ormond Beach, is offering a special promotion. During October, Pickles will donate 50 percent of their proceeds to the Jack Giles Fund. A special coupon, however, must be presented, and is available at County Tire.
The most critical phase of this long ordeal will, of course, be the transplant operation itself. It is a delicate procedure that involves a lot of people - doctors, family, friends - but most importantly, the patient himself. It is not an easy process, nor does it come without risk. But Jack Giles is willing to take that risk. After all, his life is depending on it.