CLEVELAND, OH (WOIO) - Before his heart transplant Gene Shimandle had no pulse, an artificial heart, and was dying. On April 11 he stepped off the curb at the Cleveland Clinic for the first leg of his 27- day walk to Washington, D.C.
After 12 years of struggling with congestive heart failure Shimandle got the call.
"It was a call that took 12 years to receive," Shimandle said standing in the early morning shadow of the Clinic's front entrance. "As I woke up I felt a new heart beating in my chest."
That heart came at a cost. When Valerie and David Stebel lost their son Cody to a car accident they made the decision to donate his organs. "It's brought us a lot of peace to hear it, and know he lives on," David Stebel said.
Cody Stebel's family came to watch Shimandle's send off. Cody's father David fought back tears as he talked about the lives affected through his son's organ donations. "It's very helpful to hear how his gift has changed their lives," David Stebel said. "It lets us know that little pieces of him still live on."
Shimandle talks about the responsibility he feels to his donor's legacy. "I'm here today because a family gave me an opportunity to have another day," Shimandle said. "My youngest was three-years-old when I received this diagnosis, she's now 15, and hasn't known a healthy dad, now she gets to know a healthy dad."
Along the way Shimandle hopes to raise awareness about organ donations and speak with "decision makers" in D.C. about the need for national recognition for both organ donors and recipients. The 357 mile journey started April 11, Shimandle's 62 birthday, it will take 27 days and finish May 8, on the one-year anniversary of his transplant.
"I'm grateful for the gift I never going to be able to repay," Shimandle said before walking a gauntlet of health care workers, including his cardiologist. Shimandle smiles and waves and starts walking.