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Mike Norton

Heart Transplant - 11/2016

I underwent a heart transplant operation at Houston’s St. Luke’s Health-Baylor Medical Center in November of 2016. My name is Mike Norton and this is my story.

“My Heroes Have Always Been Cowboys”

Like the song written by Sharon Vaughn and sung by Willie Nelson I too grew up a- dreamin’ of bein’ a cowboy. Not the men who supply meat to our tables but the ones who performed great deeds of daring on the silver and small screen, the cowboys of TV and movie westerns. As I grew older I began to realize that I enjoyed seeing the places where the great deeds were performed as much as the deeds themselves. To visit the old west scenery would be a dream come true.

“Slow-movin’ Dreams”

Then I learned three things:
1. I learned the art and science of photography.
2. I learned that most of the scenery in western movies was located between
Brackettville, Texas and Lone Pine, California.
3. I learned that I had Idiopathic Hypertrophic Subaortic Stenosis, IHSS. A heart condition that would only get worse and would never get better.

I didn’t let the IHSS stop me from photographing the western movie scenery but it did slow me down. Hiking up mountain or down canyon trails was impossibly hard. I began photographing at scenic overlooks and close to my truck at the far end of four-wheel drive roads. In 1996 I was photographing at Glacier Point in Yosemite National Park. Glacier Point is a cliff 3,000 feet above the Yosemite Valley floor. I didn’t get there by hiking up a trail. I drove up the paved road. While there I photographed Half Dome. Half Dome is a granite formation that tops out at 8,842 feet, and stands 4,737 feet above the valley floor. It is accessible only by a hiking trail. I remember thinking that because of the IHSS standing on top of Half Dome would be impossible and that Glacier Point would be the highest point I would ever reach in the park.

My condition continued to deteriorate to the point that in July of 2016 I drove 1,950 miles to a spot where I could photograph 10 feet from my truck. Shortly after returning home from that trip I was informed that I needed to be placed on the heart transplant list at St. Luke’s. Luckily by Christmas of 2016 I was home with a new heart.

In March of 2017 I was contacted by Life Gift and asked if I would like to meet my donors family. I was speechless but eventually got the word yes out of my mouth. In early April two of my transplant siblings and I met our donor’s family at a hospital in Fort Worth, Texas. The meeting was part of National Donate Life Month and was covered by the local news media. After meeting the family and letting them listen to the heart with a stethoscope I learned that my donor’s name was Aaron. He was a 15-year high school old sophomore who was on the football, baseball and track teams, he marched in the band, sang in the choir, was taking college prep classes and was in the Boy Scouts.

I gave his mother a framed print of one of my best photographic images, the image of Half Dome that I had taken from Glacier Point 20 years earlier. I told his mother, “Wherever I go and whatever I do for the rest of my life, Aaron is taking me there.”

“Cowboys are Different with their Own Brand of Misery”

I pointed to Half Dome on the framed print and told Aaron’s mother, “I would like to try to do (hike) that some day.” Unfortunately that statement became part of the news coverage and everyone who saw it asked me, “When are you going to hike up Half Dome?” So I had to do it. The next year and a half were spent hiking 9 to 12 miles a day along with 30 minute stints on a Stair-Master all while carrying a backpack containing a gallon of water. On August 30, 2018 my best friend, a cousin and I hiked the 4,737 vertical feet, 9-mile long trail and achieved what I once thought was impossible, I stood on the top Half Dome. Then we hiked the 9-miles back down. The round trip took 18 hours and 10 minutes, a mile an hour. Not bad for three men in their early sixties.

“Pursuin’ the Life of My High-Riding Heroes”

Since then I have been pursuin’ the life of my high-riding heroes by continuing to hike, camp and photograph the grand landscapes of the American west. None of this would have possible without the dedicated professionals at Houston’s St. Luke’s Health-Baylor Medical Center. They’re the best!

Link to the NBC 5 DFW news story: son-through-his-gift-of-life/14772/


None of this would have possible without the dedicated professionals at Houston’s St. Luke’s Health-Baylor Medical Center. They’re the best!

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