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Cross-Country Motorcycle Trip Beings Transplant Journey

In July 2013, Joe Callan was busy making plans for his dream vacation - a cross-country motorcycle ride with friends. The plan was to start in Minnesota, go up through Canada and finish in Alaska. The trip of a lifetime for the avid rider.

A few weeks before the ride, Joe noticed that he was starting to feel a bit lethargic. Always mindful of his health after having been diagnosed with cardiomyopathy fifteen years earlier, Joe quickly made an appointment to see his cardiologist. After a small procedure to make some adjustments to his defibrillator, and confirmation that he was feeling better, Joe received the “all clear” to take his trip.

It was about two days into the motorcycle ride that Joe started feeling sick again. Not wanting to cut the trip short, he kept pushing on with the goal of making it to Alaska. As the long days went on, he started feeling worse. His energy was drained, he was barely eating, his legs were swollen, and he had to sleep sitting up so that he could breathe. He finally admitted that he needed to end the trip early and started riding back to MN. He rode from sunup to sundown to get home as quickly as possible and admits that there were times when he didn’t know if he would make it. 

When Joe finally returned home, he spent the next few weeks consulting multiple doctors and enduring a myriad of tests. It wasn’t until his wife, Margaret, talked to an Advance Heart Specialist at the hospital where she worked that the severity of Joe’s illness was revealed. The doctor recommended that Joe come in for a few more tests, and to pack an overnight bag, just in case. 

One night turned into months, as the tests determined that Joe was suffering from heart failure. He would not leave the hospital again without a heart transplant.

Joe spent the next 4.5 months in the hospital waiting. He watched seasons change from his hospital window; celebrated the holidays with family in his hospital room; and focused on staying as healthy and positive as possible.

On January 30, 2014, Joe received his life-saving heart transplant. Joe’s daughter, Kathleen, recalls that when the family was told that there was a heart available for Joe, the first thing he said was “we need to stop and pray for the family.” After months of waiting, Joe’s first thoughts were of his donor and the family who had said yes to giving the ultimate gift of life. 

Life After Transplant

Today, Joe continues to live a vibrant life, full of gratitude. He retired in 2019 and remains active with hobbies such as woodworking, photography, and motorcycling. But it is the time spent with family that has been Joe’s greatest pleasure. Because of donation, Joe has been able to watch his son get married, enjoy dinners and outings with his daughter, and is looking forward to the day when his wife joins him in retirement.

Joe has also had the unique opportunity to honor his donor and celebrate his transplant by competing at the Transplant Games of America with Team MN-DAK in 2016 and 2018.

Every two years, the Transplant Games of America gathers together thousands of transplant recipients, living donors, donor families, supporters, and spectators for the world’s largest celebration of life. At “the Games,” Joe and other recipients are given the chance to show the world that having a transplant is a second chance at a full, productive, and inspiring life as well as display to their donor families what their gift means to them. While the 2020 Games were cancelled due to COVID, Joe is already looking forward to participating again in 2022 and showing the world all that is possible because of donation.