As Anthony Arington moves across the water, he can’t help but reflect on how fortunate he is to even be in this moment.
"I’ve got this opportunity and I don’t want to waste it," said Arington. "I don’t want to be the fellow that sits in the basement and plays video games all day. I want to be able to go out and tell people there’s a reason you should go ahead and you should donate."
It’s been five years since Arington received what he called 'a new lease on life' after undergoing a successful heart transplant at Barnes-Jewish Hospital in 2012. However, there isn’t a day that goes by where he doesn’t think back to when he was unexpectedly diagnosed with a Cardiomyopathy.
"I thought you know, 'Maybe they made a mistake?' I mean I’m an athletic guy," added Arington. "I lifted weights. I wrestled all throughout high school, and I was a runner too. So the fact that I had a heart problem that had never been diagnosed at 20, it was surprising."
Arington was a student at Lindenwood at the time.
"I never smoked, I didn’t drink," said Arington. "I never used drugs, so it was surprising. You live a clean life and think you’re healthy and then all the sudden everything changes."
Now 40-years-old, Arington knows that if it wasn’t for his donor, he wouldn’t be living the life he is today.
"I don’t let anything stop me. I try to do everything that I used to do at 20."
Twelve months after his transplant, Arington felt inspired to do things that he had never dreamt of before, like competing in the MR340. It's a three-day, 340-mile kayak race that takes place on the Missouri River. It runs from Kansas City to Saint Charles.
From the beginning, Arington's motivation for running was to see what his new heart had to offer.
"I had never thought about sitting in a Kayak before," said Arington. But I thought, 'You know what? That's in Missouri. It seems like a long-distance thing I could probably do?' So I found a kayak, got in a boat, and took a few trips down the Meramec River and the next thing you know I did the MR340 alone."
This year’s race on August 8th marks the fifth year that Arington will be competing in the event, but he’s doing it for more than himself. He’s partnering with two local non-profit charities, the Casey Ann Hohman Memorial Association and the Heart Transplant Association of Saint Louis.
"There’s been so many people who have been so good to me throughout this whole ordeal, even before the transplant, while I was sick. Doctor's from several other hospitals, friends, family, and then I see the friends and family of other people that are awaiting transplants. Some aren’t as fortunate as I am, and just because you get a transplant doesn’t always mean you’re going to be successful with it."
That was the case for 22-year-old Casey Hohman who passed away on February 15th, 2002 due to complications from a heart transplant. In her memory, her family has created a charity and it’s where Casey’s Place Apartments were born.
"We have five charity apartments for transplants that come from all over the states," said Vince Hohman. "We've had people from as far away as Maryland to Florida. They come in and many times they don’t have the resources. We charge $25 a night and sometimes they don’t even have the resources to pay that."
It’s a place for both pre-and post-transplant patients to stay, who are from out of town, and must travel to St. Louis for treatment.
"If someone can just get a few weeks and I can help them with that and maybe take the stress off of waiting for a transplant," said Arington. "Then I’m happy to do that."
Which is why every mile Anthony paddles on his journey, ultimately helps others on theirs.
"Having been two or three months in the waiting room at Barnes with our daughter, we were still close enough that one of us could at least get home to take care of our kids," added Hohman. "We realized how hard it would be to just live at the hospital for two or three months."
There’s even one apartment called, 'The Kayak Room', where there are pictures of Arington on the walls because the money he was able to raise from last year’s MR340 race went to furnishing this apartment.
"When we talked to the social worker we said, 'What can we best do with our money?' and she said, 'If there’s something that you want to do that would really be a help to both the heart transplant association and patients, it's an apartment."
This year Arington’s goal is to raise $15,000 dollars which will be split evenly between the two non-profit charities.
If you’d like to become a sponsor and help Anthony paddle, click here.
You can also follow Arington’s progress as he trains for the race on both the Casey Ann Hohman Memorial Association and Heart Transplant Association of STL Facebook pages.
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