K-Bar Ranch resident Pete Radigan has a story to tell, and he’s been waiting 20 years for people to read it.
On Oct. 4, Tragedy to Triumph: The Story of Tom’s Heart will be officially released for sale by Red Penguin Books.
“Oh my God, I can’t wait,” says Radigan, who moved from New Jersey to K-Bar Ranch in 2019. “If there was ever a made-for-TV (story), this book is it.”
Decades in the making, it is the personal story of Radigan’s battle with his health, his life-saving heart transplant and Jan Mauk’s healing from the loss of her son Tom, the teen whose heart keeps Radigan alive, and the rare relationship between the parent of a donor and the donor recipient.
Radigan says he and Jan have talked about writing the book for many years. Radigan, who had kept a journal during his long hospital stays while waiting for a transplant, had written his version of it years ago, and Jan surprised him with her version at Christmas in 2018.
A friend of Radigan’s, writer Jim McGrath, weaved it all together.
“Over the last 10 years, when was the last time you heard of a major story about organ donation?,” Radigan asks. “They are few and far between. This book talks about what the experience is like from the view of the mother of a deceased donor — how she felt and went through the grieving process — and also about the recipient and what they go through together. It’s the first time something like this has been catalogued in a book. I feel like it’s a healing guidebook for those on both sides of the organ donation process.”
Born on Staten Island, NY, in 1965 and raised in East Windsor, NJ, Radigan’s story certainly is unique.
In 1987, he was first diagnosed with hypertrophic cardio myopathy, which is an enlargement of the heart. It was later discovered he was actually suffering from Emery Dreifuss muscular dystrophy, which affects the heart.
By age 30, Radigan’s health had deteriorated to the point where he was having difficulty walking up stairs. He says he was teaching a corporate class in Orange County, CA, and couldn’t even wear shoes because his feet hurt so much. He was unknowingly already in end-stage heart failure.
“I thought, ‘When did I get in such bad shape?,’” he recalls. “I was embarrassed.”
Radigan returned to the east coast and underwent a battery of tests that made it official. He needed a heart, or, his doctors told him, he was going to die.
That led to months in the hospital. His first transplant was canceled after Radigan, surrounded by his family, had been prepped for the surgery. The heart he was to receive, doctors said, was damaged.
A week later, at 7:15 p.m. on Aug. 4, 1997, a new donor heart had been found, and Radigan received his heart at the New York Presbyterian Medical Center.
Just two days earlier, 16-year-old Tom Mauk was driving his motorcycle when a car struck him and sent him flying more than 150 feet.
Jan says she struggled for a day with the decision to donate Tom’s organs, but knew that was what her son would have wanted.
On Sept. 13, Radigan walked out of the hospital with a cane and a new lease on life.
That’s the tragedy. The triumph came more than a year later, when, after a few letters back and forth, Pete and Jan agreed to finally meet on Feb. 5, 1999, in Niagara Falls in Toronto.
Radigan says it was one of the most emotional moments of his life. He brought Jan flowers and asked her if she wanted to listen to her son’s heart. She leaned in and pressed her ear to his chest.
“It was not like listening to the quality, rhythm, or rate of a heartbeat or detecting arrhythmias, which I practiced as a nurse,” she wrote. “Listening to his heart brought a connection to Tom, joy to my soul, in contrast to the previous sadness, as tears formed in my eyes….The sound of his heartbeat was a melody to my ear, as I wanted to permanently affix my head to (Pete’s) chest to hear it continually. It brought comfort to me.”
Radigan says that the last third of the book details their friendship, and includes the letters and emails they wrote to each other over the years.
“When I asked Jan what made her want to write the book, her answer was pretty simple: ‘It gave me the opportunity to leave a legacy for my son, the man he was and the gifts he provided,’” says Radigan.
For Pete Radigan, it was another chance to say “thank you.”
To purchase the book or for more information on donor and tissue donation, visit TragedyToTriumph.net. Tragedy to Triumph will also be available from Amazon, Barnes & Noble and Google Books.