A 2nd Act: The Beat of a Heart, the Blink of an Eye

A new “view” of life

With a wife he adored, a healthy son and daughter, an exhilarating career in banking, and the beautiful Pacific Ocean just a short drive from his Portland home, Chris Rudolph had the perfect life. During the winter of 1991, Rudolph got a chest cold. He was an active, healthy guy and figured the cold would go away. But it didn’t. He sought advice from his physician, who didn’t like what he heard in Rudolph’s chest and sent him to a cardiologist. That doctor sent him immediately to the hospital, where Rudolph was admitted for testing. 

The news the next morning wasn’t good. A healthy heart is about the size of a fist; Rudolph’s was the size of a football. His diagnosis was idiopathic (spontaneous from an unknown cause) cardiomyopathy. Although he would be given a variety of drugs, his long-term survival was unlikely without a heart transplant. When the symptoms became too severe, Rudolph went on the transplant list and received a new heart in October 1996.

This time a veteran, he knew exactly what he would need to do post-surgery. But two days later, he awoke in the hospital, totally blind.

“I had always been a positive person,” Rudolph said. “On transplant day, I told my team, ‘You do the surgery, I’ll take it from there.’” And he did, starting his first second act by joining the speakers’ bureau of the Portland chapter of what is now called Donate Life. “I spoke to churches, civic groups, schools, anyone who would listen about the importance of becoming an organ donor before a tragedy strikes,” Rudolph said. “And I joined their board of directors.”

He continued his volunteer work with Donate Life after he was transferred to Phoenix. Then came the 2008 financial downturn. Rudolph was laid off and eventually found his way  to nonprofit development work, first at the Musical Instrument Museum and then at the Phoenix Art Museum. Then, slowly, the familiar symptoms returned. Rudolph knew his low energy and shortness of breath meant the beginning of heart failure. A visit to Mayo Clinic confirmed his suspicions. The majority of his arteries were either collapsed or plaque-filled.

In January 2019, when most of us were putting away our holiday décor, Rudolph received his second transplant. This time a veteran, he knew exactly what he would need to do post-surgery. But two days later, he awoke in the hospital, totally blind. Rudolph tells the story. “A dozen doctors, including a neuro-ophthalmologist, could only surmise that I was the one in 10,000. The new organ anti-rejection drug had burned both of my optic nerves,” he said.

Some of Rudolph’s vision returned by the time he went home a few days later. “I have a small amount of peripheral vision in my right eye and about 20 percent in my left. Everything pretty much looks as though it’s dim and in the shadows,” he said.

Remarkably, Rudolph’s optimism did not dim. And his second second act began. A Mayo staff member connected him with the Arizona Center for the Blind and Visually Impaired. Founded in 1947, its mission is to facilitate independence and promote full participation in all aspects of everyday life. Rudolph availed himself of a number of their services, from cane training for mobility to life-skills training — learning how to adapt to sudden loss of vision. And as soon as he could, he was ready to lend a hand.

“I’m on the board, and chair of the development committee,” he said. “My passion is to help them grow. Two and one-half percent of the American population is impacted by blindness or vision loss. Using that equation, that equals nearly 200,000 in Arizona. Our current client maximum is only 300, but we hope that changes soon.”

ACBVI has just purchased the block on which their center sits. They’ve partnered with Terros Health to increase and expand their services, the list of which is long: social and recreation programs, vocational training, support groups and more. They’re currently training clients who are computer-savvy to provide support to sighted computer users. And they’ve begun an adventures program, allowing clients to enjoy skiing, indoor rock climbing and water sports.

“I hope readers will stop in for a site visit,” Rudolph said, “no pun intended.” He encourages everyone he meets not to waste a single minute. Live fully, find a second act and give back to the greater good. Because life can change in the blink of an eye.

To learn more, visit acbvi.org.

About Judy Pearson

Judy Pearson is a journalist, published author, and the founder of A2ndAct.org. Her organization supports and celebrates women survivors of all cancers as they give back to the greater good in their 2nd Acts. Her passion is finding those who have have healed themselves by helping others.
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