Lucio Arreola is going to have an astounding Father's Day this year. He finds just about every day astounding now.
Arreola has a new heart; or at least, new to him. He is 50 years old, the father of three daughters and a banking executive in Puerto Rico. On April 20, doctors at Houston Methodist Hospital performed a transplant to implant inside him the heart of a deceased 25-year-old man whose identity he may never know, but to whom he and his family will always be grateful.
Arreola was told he had a heart muscle disease 15 years ago that weakened his breathing and circulation. He went on a sequence of medications, while he and his wife, Elena, raised three daughters: Maria, now 21, Paulina, 19, and Lucia, 17. They worried about their father's health. He worried about their happiness.
"I live for them," he told us this week. "I worried if I could do what a father really should do for his children. But I knew if they were going to grow up, they had to treat me like a normal person, not a patient."
Lucio Arreola has been recovering from his heart transplant surgery at Houston Methodist over these past two months.
"One day up, one day down," he told us. "Some days dark, some light. But what happens," he says, "is that when the sun is out, you really feel it. Every breath is sweet. You see the trees, people. You hear your daughters laugh, and it's like birds singing. All the little details suddenly get big. You tell yourself, 'There's no time in life for anything but love.' "
When his family walked Lucio through the halls of the hospital, to help him gain strength, they heard a woman playing guitar and singing in the room of another patient. It was Liz Laguaite, a hospital music therapist, playing a song. She told the Arreola family, "Why don't you try to write a song together about what you've been through and what you've learned?"
They decided to try. Lucio Arreola had worried that illness might make his daughters see him, their father, as fragile. But instead of frailty, they mostly saw his courage to go on. And he says their love was its own powerful heart muscle that gave him faith, hope and courage.
"My weak heart," he says, "helped make them strong."
Arreola says he's learned that human hearts are fragile and finite. But a family's love is stalwart and enduring. The Arreola family has recorded the song they created while Lucio recovers. It begins with the strong beat of a father's loving heart.