Lehigh Valley

Lehigh Valley doctor becomes the patient, receives heart transplant

Dr. Neal Stansbury puts his heart into everything he does.

He knew at a young age he wanted to be a surgeon. Then as a teenager, he knew he wanted to also be a cyclist.

So for decades he traveled all over the globe, competing and winning. He would then come home to help his patients, to make sure they could also follow their dreams.

But about 16 years ago, the road got bumpy.

Sitting in the living room of his Lehigh County home, Dr. Stansbury said "I just got to the point where I was just trying to make it through every single day."

Dr. Stansbury, who'd always been active, found himself unable to do anything but go to work, and come home and sleep. 

"And that was my life for several years," he said. 

He knew something was wrong, but nobody could figure it out. One doctor even told him he was just getting older.

So he did his own research, and eventually diagnosed himself with a heart disease and learned he'd need a heart transplant to survive.

"It's very difficult to deal with, because you wake up every morning saying, 'am I going to live to the next full moon'? type thing."

So he, and his bike, sat idle for three years while he waited on a transplant list. 

Finally last July - likely just weeks from death - he got a new heart. He only knows it came from a young patient from CHOP. 

"Which is a children's hospital in PA, so it was a child. I assume a teenager," he said.

"For me it was perfect situation, for that family, obviously it was total devastation," he said. "I can honestly say I've cried many times."

In some ways, Dr. Stansbury is taking different roads now.

While he can't race competitively anymore, he still gets on the bike and rides. This summer, the father of three is going to a run a half marathon with his daughters. He says he always wanted to, and after 10 years they're making up for lost time.

He's also now an ideal advocate for organ donation. After all, he's used tissue donations for years for his patients -  probably at least one a week, he said.

But he never dreamed he'd need this donation of his own one day. 

And this whole ordeal - the doctor becoming the patient - has given him a change of heart, in more ways than one.

"I think that's helped me tremendously, as far as being on the other side, and being able to relate to my patients better…In a lot of ways, I'm very glad it happened, because I think it's made me a better person," he said.

Dr. Stansbury has been giving his patients second chances all these years. Now he's got his own, and whatever comes next, you better believe he'll put his whole heart into it. 

If you would like to give the gift of life, visit donors1.org to register now or get more information. 

Anybody who is interested can register for the 24th Annual Donor Dash, which will take place Sunday, April 14.


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