Finalist, 2020 Next Generation Indie Awards, Humor.
Finalist, 2021 Reader’s Choice Book Awards, Memoir.
The most hilarious heart transplant memoir you’ll read this year! (probably ever)
In late March 2019, high school English teacher Terry Kroenung rode a quick 10 miles on his bike. 10 days later he had an emergency heart transplant. Imagine his surprise.
Based on the irreverent Facebook diary he kept during the ordeal, this memoir recounts his experiences with near-fatal pacemaker implantations, defibrillation scorch marks, 7-hour cardiac ablations, surgical staples, and the up-and-down recovery process.
Along the way are 6 pregnant nurses, Canadian axe throwers, alien face-huggers, shopping bags full of Mexican-cartel-priced drugs, and the most horrifying photo of a dead heart that even the doctors had ever seen.
If he hadn’t gone to the Emergency Room purely to avoid a faculty meeting, somebody else would have written this book. There he was told that despite the 100-mile bike rides and 10K races, he had heart failure. Having a very rare disease isn’t the fun pageant you’d think it would be.
His snarky, pun-strewn and geeky commentary on events, as well as more dubiously-termed ‘wit’ that he added after the fact (essentially playing Mystery Science Theatre with himself), make up the book that you’re somehow still reading about.
All proceeds of this book will go to benefit Donor Alliance and their life-saving work increasing the supply of transplant organs.
Targeted Age Group:: 13+
What Inspired You to Write Your Book?
All my life I was a runner, a cyclist, a fencer, an Army infantry officer. Active stuff. None of that mattered when isolated cardiac sarcoidosis (very rare; turns your heart into zombie meat) stomped on my wonder-heart like a piano falling out of a window. One day I cycled 10 miles, 10 days later I had a heart transplant. That quick. If only the DMV were as fast.
Nothing is as dull as lying in a hospital bed for 7 days. Already a writer, I used Facebook as a diary to amuse myself and the world about the absurdity of it all, while not
slighting the seriousness of it or my donor.
The experts have spoken about HeartSnark!
“I pioneered historic, life-saving surgery for this??”
–Dr. Christiaan Barnard
“Sure, I invented the left ventricular assist device,
but I wish someone had invented a ‘lame author assist device.”
–Dr. Michael DeBakey
“I’d trade my artificial heart for an artificial brain
if I could install it in this author.”
–Dr. Robert Jarvik
“Why is there blood on my shoes?
Is it Kroenung’s?”
Hey! Don’t skip this!
(I worked all weekend on it)
Good for you, plucky reader! You took the high road and chose not to blast on by this part, which is actually pretty darned important, believe it or not. This Introduction clues you in on who I am, why this book exists, why it has a weird title, and why you should care. It will make the rest of the long slog more understandable and, therefore, endurable.
That’s my story and I’m sticking to it.
On April 7, 2019, at the Anschutz Medical Center in Aurora, Colorado, they cut my heart out and tossed it in a trash can. Said receptacle, having some standards, promptly spit it back.
That’s not strictly true. It was actually sliced and diced and sent to labs from the Mayo Clinic on down, because my ticker was bizarre. Not only didn’t it work anymore, the high and mighty physicians involved turned out to be dead wrong about why. Keep this in mind, though: you never want your medical condition to be so rare that doctors from far and wide come to visit you in morbid fascination, visions of lucrative research grants cavorting in their heads.
This is the more-or-less humorous story of that heart transplant, from its origins two years before when I was fitted with a pacemaker, despite the doctor wondering why such a relatively young and healthy dude should need one, to six months into a hopefully glitch-free recovery from the transplant. Yes, you read that right. Humorous. Well, as humorous as my limited comedic skills could make it at the time. Thus the odd title for a subject that usually comes with the terms inspirational, courageous, uplifting, or tragic.
The core of the book is the running Facebook diary I kept every day as this insanity progressed. Both out of a natural proclivity toward black humor and out of a necessity to not go crazy and take a swan dive out of my hospital window (which would’ve made me an organ donor instead of a recipient), I took great pains to not act the victim or seek any sympathy at all. Instead, I tried to make as many snarky observations about my predicament as I could. To my amazement, my nearly 5,000 Facebook friends began responding to it as if it were some hit TV show. One even claimed that she was more into it than Game of Thrones (let’s face it, my medical drama was less predictable than that ending). Not long after beginning the whole thing, people started suggesting that it should be a book. Many people. Repeatedly. Being an author of fantasy novels that no one reads, such clamor was a new experience for me. I wasn’t too sure about it at the time, having more engrossing things on my mind like, you know, dying and all, but I kept an open mind. Later I had an open torso, too. After getting home in one piece (though the pieces were a bit different that before), I re-read the string of posts and agreed that something could be made of it all, but only if the facetious angle was the focus. There are already plenty of heart transplant books that aim to inspire or educate, written by people better qualified by temperament for that than I am.
But this is absolutely not intended to make light of the serious nature of the unfortunate donor’s plight, and that of his family. Everything else is fair game for black humor here, but never that. I get to go on my merry way, miraculously saved, but they have an empty chair at the dinner table.
So this is the deal: what you have before you is the mostly unedited spewings I created from March 30, 2019, when I had to rush to the Emergency Room with runaway ventricular tachycardia (sounds like a Marvel villain) through the week of diagnosis, the surgery, the week of ICU recovery, and the five months of home recovery while composing this book. I chose not to go back and correct or prettify anything, unless there was a grievous factual error. It’s an honest account of what I was experiencing and thinking in real time, no matter how lame. There are several pages of posts covering the time leading to the blessed event, to give a sense of the continuity to the thing. Those begin with April 22, 2017. Yes, Earth Day, that glorious homage to recycling. Appropriate, I think, considering. I had to back up so far because there was a significant foreshadowing event that summer. Yes, even more important than the year
being designated as ‘International Year of Sustainable Tourism for Development’ by the UN.
Also included are the comments my Facebook friends made to these posts, along with my own, plus later comments on the comments, from my new perspective. It turns out that some of these people own a modicum of wit. Who knew? I wish this book could provide the hilarious videos and GIF’s that often accompanied their comments. And by no means are all of their comments included here. That would have resulted in a book longer than Moby Dick, and with almost as many sharp implements and gore. Most of the responses were loving and supportive, so many, in fact, that it got a bit embarrassing on my end. Sincerity is not something I handle well. It overwhelmed me, frankly. I kept a few of those in, to communicate the flavor of it all, but I chiefly used the snarkier ones, since they matched the book’s theme. Just keep in mind that the loving ones outnumbered the funny ones by at least 5 to 1.
Lastly, I have gone back through the posts/comments and added explanatory notes/reflections/so-called jokes.
Some biographical and medical items needed clarification, and at times I needed to give my honest thoughts about particular episodes. Hey, it can’t all be comedy gold. My long-suffering wife, Janet (trust me, her suffering began long before my heart troubles) has done the same. With clever formatting, the various sections should be simple to keep straight.
I’ve chosen not to give you my biography in great detail, since it’s not really necessary to understand the book and it’s about as fascinating as a Congressional subcommittee report on turnip pricing. There will be brief explanations of episodes that you need to know so you won’t be totally lost as to why I wrote a particular note or passage.
There’s a semi-serious glossary of medical terms at the end. I may have snarked it up a bit.
So off you go, little fledglings, into the brave new world of my heart transplant. It’s a deadly serious topic, yes, but just this once we can relax and laugh at modern medicine for the grand and glorious absurdity it can be…though you won’t be laughing at the bills. Trust me on this.
April 8, 2019 (the morning after the transplant)
Somebody swiped my heart and replaced it with a duplicate, like Indiana Jones did with that golden idol.
Dave: They weren’t being literal when they asked you to get it off your chest. Nice to see you, eyes open, channeling Munch!
Janet: Respiration tube is out and Terry is talking again!
The stuff of nightmares. Be afraid…be very afraid.
Russell: Let's hope it's an end to the heartache and the thousand (un)natural shocks…
Didn’t immediately end the heartache, but haven’t been shocked since, so…win.
Maria: YIKES! That is quite a Christmas tree of an IV stand you've got there!
? “Have yourself a merry little transplant…may your heart be right…”
Mark: Eeyore and Tigger? Got to be…Tiggers always bounce…
Kristi: Glad to see your tube out and able to talk again! Your color does look better, even Eeyore seems happy!
I went from pasty and gray to merely pasty.
Garalt: This post is on repeat on my FB timeline. How do you get that exposure without actually paying them?
By paying 1.8 million for a heart transplant, that’s how. #justgiveZuckerberghis$
Cheri: No club dancing on tables, now!
Aww, mom, you never let me have any fun.
Andrea: Vrrooommmm!! Incredible!!
Cheri: Hope they are finally letting you eat something!!
Hannah: Oh Terry, you are a trouper! Well done! An age to fall in love!
Matthew: ? "Fairy tales can come true, it can happen to you…."
Tim: Great to hear from you. The worst part for me was getting the respirator removed. The rest is easy as pie.
Removing the respirator was a breeze. One hard cough and spit out the accumulated goo. Having it in while waiting for them to all agree when to pluck it out was…not.
Garalt: We'll put the Shakespearean Stripper festival on hold for another 40 years.
Oh, don’t put yourself out on my account. If they’re already available…
Bill: Let's hear it for those who checked YES on the organ donor question on their driver's license. I'm so glad you got to give life to another person's young heart.
Maria: Oh dear…back on Facebook…with all those pain meds. Are there any adults supervising?
Absolutely not. And I’d ignore them if they were.
AE: Oh yeah — I can tell by this post you are baaaack! Just don’t do the Ferrari thing too soon. And doubt you’re a Studebaker — maybe a 57 ‘Chevy—those are classic cars.
Me: I’m a 1958, the same year as the Edsel.
Cindi: ??Yay for modern medicine and blessings to the donor’s family. Having been in the donor's shoes at the young age of 31, we felt that donating James' heart and other organs helped comfort us during such a difficult time. I'm really glad that you didn't have to wait a long time?? Heal well.
Mark: We should still get strippers anyway…but we should probably wait until you're a little stronger…
You sound completely selfless about those strippers.
Mark: Whew! Now I don't have to read the "dead parrot" bit at your funeral. Wasn't looking forward to that.
I prefer kippin’ on my back. As if I had any choice in a hospital bed with 347 IV lines in me. #piningforthefjords
Perry: Soon you'll be shagging anything longer than it is wide, demanding drugs, and throwing tantrums in between bouts of suicidal depression. Then you'll be all guacamole dip and gender reassignment surgery. Well done.
You sure know how to have a good time.
Katherine: So, basically, you're immortal!!! Yay.
Cindi: You really are Iron Man!
Tina: Be careful not to chase Janet around too much — the legs are YOUR age!
Me: Yeah, but hers are five years older.
Peter: Gad — Remember the Christian Barnard business in '67? Now this isn't even considered rare — The times in which we live, eh?
Sitting in a chair the same day as the heart transplant!
Rebecca: You will be home soon, if you keep this up.
Janet: Here he is, my very own Captain Jean-Luc Picard sitting in his command chair with a new heart. Make it so!
Serge: Remember the Star Trek: The Next Generation episode where we found that Jean-Luc had an artificial heart, and he took a shuttle to a place where he could get a living one?
I could’ve used a shuttle, instead of driving an hour each way for every biopsy, etc.
Jim: I dunno — I'm thinking that many tubes, it's Locutus of Borg, not Picard. Time for a daring and highly unorthodox rescue…
Serge: Has Alice Krige been seen around the facilities?
She played the Borg Queen on Star Trek. There, I saved you a trip to Google.
Dai: You're already more energetic than I! Bastard.
Debbie: WHAT!!!! OH, MY GOD, your wife has a young buck to keep up with now. Seriously, I can't believe what modern medicine can do. I'm beyond ecstatic for you, Terry!!!! Hmm, sending hubby for a medical…
David: And tomorrow, the dance marathon?
Spastic old white-guy dancing? Nobody wants to see that.
CS: Those really are outstanding socks.
Garalt: No cycling for at least 24 hours.
Well, I already REcycled.
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