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Former heart patient has hope for life

Jefferson Award-winner Bill Spears
April 17, 2009 12:00:00 AM PDT
Every month at ABC7 we like to honor Southern California's unsung heroes with the Jefferson Awards. This month's winner is someone who is giving back after receiving the gift of life.Feeling his pulse, or his "amigo" as he calls it, reminds 69-year-old Bill Sears his life is a gift.

"If we're going to receive a heart, a gift of life, we have to make sure we do something good with the rest of our life. We have to be productive. We have to give back," said Bill.

Bill received a donor heart eight years ago from a 20-year-old man from Mexico. Since then, he's dedicated every waking moment to giving hope to other heart patients like 19-year-old Marcel Barber.

"You've actually inspired me to do what you do," said Marcel.

One of the scariest things a patient can face is a heart transplant. And no matter how much doctors inform them, nothing can be as reassuring to a patient as seeing someone who has already been through it all.

"When they see people like Bill walking in and looking great and dapper, and doing things that normal people do, they realize that they can get back to a great quality of life," said Dr. Koshibagawa, medical director, UCLA Heart Transplant Program.

If Marcel gets a new heart, he wants to contribute like Bill.

"I'd love to be able to go out there and give them any advice I can about ... not how bad it is, [but] how well it's going to be later on," said Marcel.

Volunteering with UCLA's Heart to Heart Program is only part of Bill's efforts to give back. He also volunteers with the Hearts with Hope Foundation. The group travels to Peru to provide cardiac care to hundreds of children. The foundation gives hundreds of thousands of dollars in treatment, medication and equipment. Bill says what he gets in return is worth so much more.

"I have so much to accomplish and I feel that," said Bill. "And that's why I enjoy doing what I'm doing here in the hospital as well as going to Peru."

For being selected as a Jefferson Award winner, Bill won $1,000 to go to the charity of his choice. He wants the money to go to a young girl in Peru who has a debilitating hole in her heart. The money is the exact amount it would take for her surgery.

The heart Bill received saved more than his life, the donation has gone on to save countless others. After all, Bill believes organ donation is a two-way street. You must give as much as you receive.

"It's like you have the gift of life so you just want to use it to the fullest," said Bill.