This is a difficult letter to write, because I do not know if it should be addressed to a husband, a wife, a father, a mother, a son, or a daughter. I do not know who my benefactors are, but I want to thank them. Since you are getting this letter through the Pittsburgh Transplant Foundation, you have probably guessed what this is about - that I am the recipient of a part of someone that you once knew and loved. I don't know who that person was, and since I don't want to make the mistake of calling him or her by the wrong title, I'll just use "the other," for lack of a better term. But whoever you are and whoever "the other" was, you have given me a gift beyond value and beyond thanks. I shall try to thank you anyway.
I apologize for this letter having taken so long to have been written - it was very awkward for me to sit down and write an anonymous letter, but as time has passed it has become more and more important for me to communicate with you. I also apologize for the letter being typewritten. My penmanship has always been poor, and I am afraid that if it were handwritten, you would have a difficult time deciphering it.
I should tell you a little bit about myself. I am a 33 year old man, who up until March was very active. I would run up stairs, dash down the block to catch a friend, hike in the park or in the mountains, and play racquetball and frisbee just for the sheer fun of it. Sometimes I would walk for miles, gallivanting through the woods or enjoying the night air. One of my favorite sports was Ultimate Frisbee - if you are not familiar with it, there are seven players to a team, and there is more running involved than in soccer or football. In March, I was playing on an Ultimate Frisbee team when a member of the opposing team smashed into my right knee while we were both running hard. In the blink of an eye, I crashed screaming to the ground, clutching my knee. My knee had twisted, torsionally dislocating, tearing the medial meniscus and ripping the anterior cruciate ligament in half. I walked off the field, but my leg would not stabilize - the knee kept giving way because the internal structure had been disrupted. From March until July I went to rehabilitation therapy three times a week, trying to rebuild in the muscles what I had lost in the ligaments. It is called conservative therapy - an attempt to avoid surgery if at all possible - and it works in about 5% of the people with this type of injury. Unfortunately, it didn't work for me. Even after four months of therapy, I still could not walk for more than two blocks without pain. I used to run up and down stairs two at a time - now I would walk slowly, and hurt after only one flight of stairs. I took 16 Advil a day to ease the pain.
At the end of July, I underwent reconstructive knee surgery. They took out the torn remains of my anterior cruciate ligament (since March I have learned quite a great deal about the anatomy of the knee), and replaced it with a ligament taken from "the other." It is such a small thing - 3 inches of ligament with a small piece of bone at either end - but it has meant so much to me. I walked on crutches for a month after surgery, and wore a knee brace for six weeks. My muscles atrophied from disuse, and I have been going to physical therapy again for over two months to rebuild my strength. When, for the first time after surgery, I walked unassisted, I cried with joy. My right knee is still only half as strong as my left, but it gets stronger every day. It also doesn't hurt any more. I can walk now with only a slight limp, and can climb stairs again, although going down them is still a little awkward. I have 5 months of rehabilitative therapy still to go, but I will stick it out, and I will be strong once more. And someday soon, I will run again.
I used to run a lot. I didn't jog - that was boring to me - but I would run down the hall at work, or run home from the movie theater, or just run down the street. That was one of life's simplest and greatest joys - the freedom to run - and I never knew how precious it was, and how much it meant to me until I couldn't do it anymore. The feel of the wind in my face and in my hair, my lungs filling with air, my feet pounding on the pavement or on the grass - I yearn so much to do that simple thing again that my heart cries out in longing.
I know how hard it must have been for you to lose "the other," and how difficult it must have been to allow the surgeons to take what they needed. I wish that I could write to you and tell you that it is in me that "the other's" heart still beats, or that in my chest their lungs still breathe the sweet morning air. I would love to tell you that I can see once again because corneas donated by "the other" are in my eyes, or that their kidneys have spared me the misery of a life of dialysis. But I cannot.
All that I can tell you is that a tiny ligament is grafted into my knee, and that "the other" walks with me, and we grow stronger every day. And that someday soon, we will run.
I will never be able to thank you enough for that gift.