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Personalities: Giving Thanks with Golds

Marianne Aiello, for HealthLeaders Media, July 13, 2010
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As the owner of a prominent audio/video electronics company, Bill Wohl was no stranger to fulfilling the whims of the elite. Clients such as the king of Saudi Arabia, Michael Jordan, and Don King came first in Wohl’s world. But his hectic lifestyle caught up to him in 1999 when he suffered a massive heart attack and was implanted with an artificial heart, which allowed him to recover enough to receive a full heart transplant. Ten years later, Wohl is a decorated Transplant Games athlete and Donate Life advocate.

On working with patients waiting for donors: It’s so extremely humbling to go back to your roots because you forget how sick you were and from whence you came. I could see how lost and hurt and ill they were and I tried to be a breath of fresh air and give them some ideas and try to relate to them. Having walked in their shoes, they tend to listen to me a little bit more than someone else just coming in. I remember when I was there; it’s not the happiest of surroundings.

On advising healthcare administrators: It’s always nice to talk to the professionals because a lot of them don’t have the point of view of someone who’s gone though it-they look at it from the administration side. I’ve had friends who were hospital administrators so I’ve got a little insight into that end-how stressed they are and how tough it is.

On building a relationship with his donor’s family: For years I’d been inviting the mother and father of my heart donor to attend the National Kidney Foundation U.S. Transplant Games and their grieving had moved along to the point where they were able to come in 2008. My ideal scenario was I’d win something and get my donor parents up on the podium, and it couldn’t have been scripted better for Hollywood. In my first four races I set three American records and won three golds and a silver, and I was able to give my donor’s family the first two gold medals. How do you say thank you for the gift of life? It was the best I could do.

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