HONOLULU, Hawaii (HawaiiNewsNow) - Derek Fitzgerald's life is an amazing contrast of the before and after.
He went from being overweight to suffering a severe illness that took him to death's doorstep.
“I went through cancer. Chemotherapy saved my life but it killed my heart,” he said.
Fitzgerald spent seven years bedridden and so weakened from his heart condition that he slept 23 hours a day.
"My friends and family were sitting by my bedside and they would hold my hand and I didn't even know they were there," he said.
He thought his life was over to the point that he wrote a farewell letter on his Facebook page. Then in 2011, an organ donor’s heart gave him a second chance and a spark to start over.
"I spent the first month of January of 2011 trying to lift my head just an inch off of a pillow. That's where I started," he said.
In small steps, Fitzgerald threw himself into the pursuit of physical fitness. One year after his transplant, he completed his first triathlon ― and he hasn’t looked back.
"Every day. Every heartbeat. It's somebody else's," he said.
In 2015, Fitzgerald became the first cancer survivor and heart transplant recipient to complete the Kona IRONMAN.
Now he travels the country telling “the” story instead of “his” story.
"It's important to tell the story of my donor and what that person has allowed me to do with my life," he said.
Fitzgerald doesn’t know who the donor was because their family chooses to remain anonymous.
He runs an organization called The Recycled Man Foundation that advocates for organ donation.
"Our mission is to help people who've gone through significant health challenges improve their quality of life by becoming more active," he said.
His motto is "fighting for a life that's worth fighting for."
"It's those connections to life. It's our connections to our friends and our family and our loved ones that makes life worth living," he said.
Fitzgerald, 46, lives Pennsylvania with his wife and young daughter.
He approaches every day trying to earn the gift he’s been given and to run his race as if his donor is watching.