When Shane Dehod woke up in a Vancouver hospital bed three months ago, he instinctively reached for the battery pack that had been strapped to his hip for months - it wasn't there.
With the anesthetic wearing off, the 46-year-old from Prince George mustered all the strength he could to ask one critical question.
"I could just barely roll over, but I rolled over a little bit and the nurse was there," Shane recalled. "She said, 'Shane, how are you doing?' I said, 'Good, do I have a new heart?' She looked at me and I remember her saying, 'Yes you do.' "
Shane smiled and drifted back into a contented sleep.
The journey to becoming just the fourth person from Prince George to have a successful heart transplant had been long and filled with equals parts fear and uncertainty. No more so than the morning for the surgery itself when Shane and his wife Lorin were waiting for everything to get underway.
"We're sitting there waiting to go into surgery and realizing this could be the the very last time that we see each other," he said. "The chances are scary. It's absolutely terrifying."
Three months to the day after his surgery, Shane and Lorin sat down Monday with the Citizen to share their story and hopefully inspire others who are waiting for an organ or who have family members on the wait list.
"It was an emotional roller coaster right from Day 1," Shane said. "Everyone shared on that ride."
Shane's heart condition goes back to a cancer diagnosis in 2000. To treat the combined non-Hodgkin's lymphoma and bone cancer, oncologists prescribed full body radiation, chemotherapy and a bone marrow transplant.
More than a decade later, doctors were perplexed when Shane's heart started failing. Despite being in good health and eating well, he suffered five heart attacks in quick succession. Doctors concluded the heart must have been damaged somehow, but short of illegal drug use they couldn't figure out why.
"It actually was my mom who put two and two together," Shane said. "She asked if there was any chance the cancer treatment had anything to do with what's happening now?"
After some research, his doctor found out that some of the cancer protocols used at the turn of the millennium had caused heart problems in some patients.
Yet even after the cause was determined, Shane's condition continued to deteriorate. By last summer he had congestive heart failure and his other organs were beginning to shut down. Transplant became the only solution.
In the interim, he was given a left ventricle assist device to keep his heart working and stabilize his other organs so they would be strong enough for transplant. The golf-ball sized piece of equipment was attached to his heart and used a battery pack on his hip to stay powered.
Going into the heart transplant surgery, Shane knew there was a chance the new heart wouldn't have been a perfect match and he would have woken up with the battery pack still at his side.
Just three months after the surgery, Shane said he's feeling "phenomenal" but there's still a long way to go before he's fully recovered. The first year is critical with transplant patients and the Dehods are counting down to the one year anniversary on Oct. 28.
"We're going to have a birthday every year on Oct. 28, it's going to be our second birthday," Shane said.
The life-saving surgery didn't just give Shane his health back, it gave the couple a future again.
"We're thinking we might even be able to have a vacation in a couple of years," Shane said. "Things like that were so far away before."
Things moved amazingly fast for Shane and he was lucky not to spend too much time on the wait list.
While in Vancouver for an appointment late in October, the couple was told it would likely be at least seven to nine months before a heart became available. Two days later, the phone rang in their Prince George home.
Lorin answered and passed the phone to her husband. The couple figured the hospital must have been calling to tell them they had forgotten something in the Lower Mainland, but were shocked to find out a new heart was available and they needed to get on a plane immediately.
"I hung up the the phone, I looked at Lorin, she looked at me and I said, 'We got to go,' " Shane recalled. "I got up, she got up, we ran around the house, came back met in the kitchen and went, 'I don't know what to do."
Their minds racing a mile a minute, the Dehods quickly packed, got a ride to the airport from Shane's mother and were on their way.
"I packed the stupidest things, I packed a suit but no shoes no socks," Shane said with a chuckle. "A suit? Really? Of all the things to pack, I guess I was thinking I was going to go out after the transplant."
He expected to stay in a recovery facility for three months, but the recovery went so well the pair were home a few weeks before Christmas.
"We're the poster child for heart transplants," he said. "Everything fell into place."
In addition to the physical challenges to recovery, Shane also has to deal with the emotional challenges of knowing he has someone else's heart inside of him.
"Someone's misfortune is allowing us to move on," he said. "Until you actually go through it, you don't realize how huge that is."
B.C. Transplant encourages transplant recipients to write a letter to donor families, but Shane said it's been tough to figure out what to say.
"It's such a difficult letter to write," he said. "How do you express how grateful you are? You can't even fathom what they're going through."
Shane takes about $4,000 a month worth of anti-rejection medication, but the the cost is covered by the government. Right after the transplant, he had been taking 55 pills a day, but he's down to 34 now as the biopsies so far haven't shown significant signs of rejection.
Lorin took care of Shane while he was sick and still worked hard to maintain their home and find ways to pay the mounting bills.
"The last thing I wanted for either of us was to go through all this and have nothing to come back to," she said. "It was stressful."
As the owners of a local small business - Insyte Employer Solutions - the Dehods had set aside some money in case of an emergency, but the with no income coming in the cost of the recovery from the transplant is daunting.
"We had planned for the eventuality of getting sick or something so we had our three to six months worth of savings set aside," Shane said. "We had never planned on two years. It just never even occurred to us."
Some of their friends have started a fundraising campaign on behalf of the family and have set up an account at Integris Credit Union to accept donations. Contributions can be made at any Integris branch to account No: 80346973.
The Dehods admit to being a bit ashamed asking for help, but appreciate all the support they're receiving from the community including a fundraiser by the Yellowhead Rotary Club.
"It's hard to accept help; it's somewhat embarrassing you don't want to look weak," Shane said, but they heard from a friend whose parents had cancer and the medical bills caused that family to loose their house. "She said, 'We asked for help too late, don't let that happen to you.' "
It will still be a while before Shane gets back to work full-time, but he's going to start ramping up soon. In the meantime the Dehods are driving to Vancouver every two weeks for Shane's heart biopsies, with the next appointment scheduled for Feb. 14.
"They'll take a piece out of his heart on Valentine's Day," Lorin said.