Jeffery Melcher equates his body to a “Ferrari that had a bad engine.” The Mesa 58-year-old was a top-ranked amateur racquetball player who had just placed second in a tournament when he had a heart attack in 1990.
“I always knew I was going to have a heart attack,” said Melcher, who has heart problems that run on the male side of the family. “I just didn’t know when.”
He said he cheated death and survived the attack, even though doctors said he wouldn’t survive the night.
Melcher started rehab, kept a strict diet and worked out daily. He began working as a pro golf instructor, helping people with physical handicaps. He also began working as a contract security guard at Intel.
“I always had a tendency to overdo things,” he said. “I don’t believe in quitting. I just don’t give up.”
Melcher’s heart problems surfaced again when he started getting chest and arm pains.
Tests showed he had only one working artery to his heart, and unless he got a transplant, he would die.
He went on the transplant list on his 56th birthday, Sept. 16, 2004. By this time he couldn’t do any heavy lifting and would sleep a lot.
Despite his rare blood type of B negative and his size of 5 feet, 5 inches, two months later doctors called with good news.
He received a heart from a 20-year-old woman in an operation at the University Medical Center in Tucson.
After the transplant, he began walking the same afternoon.
“I felt wonderful,” he said. “It was like night and day. It was marvelous.”
Although he will spend the rest of his life on anti-rejection drugs which give his body practically no immune system, he said he’s up for the challenge.
He tries to stay extra healthy, watch his diet, exercise daily and keep a positive mental attitude.
“There’s nothing I can’t do, but I can’t do it everyday,” Melcher said. “I did not get a second life, but I have a mutual exclusive lease.”
He began working as a security supervisor at GoDaddy. com, an Internet domain registrar and Web hosting company. He also still teaches golf on the side, and makes and repairs golf clubs. He’s also gotten into gardening.
Melcher definitely has a sense of humor about his new heart.
He said he’s developed characteristics of his donor.
“I love flowers and candy, and I do get bitchy every 28 days or so,” he said. “I like different types of food I didn’t like before, like cauliflower, and I enjoy different music. I’m also more emotional.”
Trying to give back, he volunteers with Donor Network of Arizona, talking to others about his experiences and clearing up misconceptions about organ donations.
“Donation is the greatest gift you can give in life, because it is life,” said Melcher, who wears a green Donate Life bracelet. “Without awareness and people really asking questions, there’s no greater feeling than knowing you’re perpetuating life. It gives life purpose.”
His wife of 35 years, Gail Melcher, still gets emotional when she talks about what her husband has been through.
“It was pretty nerve wracking. We kind of resigned ourselves to the fact that our life was going to be different,” said Gail, 57, an office administrator for a water filtration system company. “After he got his heart transplant, it was just great. We couldn’t have had a better Christmas gift. Now, he’s got a new outlook on life that he didn’t think he would have.”
More than 96,000 people in America are waiting for a lifesaving organ transplant, with more than 1,400 Arizonans waiting. Eighteen people die each day waiting for organ transplants. The only official way to register as a donor is to sign up on the Arizona Donor Registry online at www.donatelifeaz.org or call (800) 943-6667.