Seventy-year-old Richard Lawson has the heart of a 21-year-old.
A 45-year resident of Manhattan Beach, Lawson developed congestive heart failure and ventricular fibrillation in 2016 and his heart was quickly failing. He needed a heart transplant as soon as possible. Remarkably, on May 5, Cinco de Mayo, he got the call - and soon after he had a new heart beating in his body.
“My heart’s the best part of me now,” Lawson said.
Lawson knew that his new heart was a second chance at a healthy life, and he knew that he had to take good care of it.
“I decided I didn't want to die and I learned to be very proactive,” Lawson said. “After surgery, you don’t realize how devastated your body is. I had to take everything very slowly.”
He began an exercise regimen to keep his body and his heart healthy, and after two years of taking baby steps, he was ready for a more strenuous workout. Unfortunately, the Cardiac Rehabilitation program he was involved in at Providence Little Company of Mary Medical Center in Torrance stopped offering stage three training, and Lawson, as well as many other transplant patients, would have to find a new place to work out. That’s when they discovered the Beach Cities Health District’s Center for Health and Fitness (CHF).
“We needed a clean place to work out,” said Lawson, who must be especially careful about germs because the anti-rejection drugs he is on for his new heart makes his body especially susceptible to illness.
Eighty-two-year-old David Baker from North Redondo was part of the group who started working out at CHF.
“It’s been a very good experience,” Baker said. “About eight or 10 of us all tend to go on the same days and same times and we’ve continued to get together once a month for a luncheon.”
For Baker, staying motivated was easy once he found a group of people to exercise with.
“I just want to keep my heart functioning well, and that’s what I continue to do at the Beach Cities Health District,” said Baker. “Plus, I want to tone up a little bit too.”
Lawson continues to go to CHF to work out about three times a week.
“When I first started working out I couldn’t lift much of anything,” said Lawson. “My heart isn’t attached by my nerves and it doesn’t know I’m working out, so I have to be careful.”
In the beginning, he was glad when he could walk fifty feet to his home.
“I had to start in small increments,” Lawson said.
The CHF’s heart rate and blood pressure monitors help him work out safely, and now he’s lifting weights and walking on the treadmill.
“If I do too much I have to let my heart catch up. I really can’t feel my heart at all,” said Lawson. “I’m finding out that I can’t go fast, even though I have a 21-year-old heart.”
But for Lawson and Baker, it was more than just about staying physically fit, it was also about the community of people they had met through their shared experiences.
“It’s really unbelievable to think that this is something I could be involved in,” said Lawson. “I really enjoy the people I worked out with and we all wanted to stay together. I was worried the comradery wouldn’t be as good, but it’s just great here.”