PALMERSTON – A massive heart attack changed the life of a 40-year-old Palmerston resident forever.
But in a lot of ways, James Toccalino said it might have been the best thing to ever happen to him.
Now with a brand new heart, Toccalino has learned to appreciate life and is giving back to the town he’s grown to love starting with a large donation to the Palmerston arena.
In an interview, Toccalino said it was March 14, 2022 when he had a massive heart attack after coming home from work. His wife Cara and son called an ambulance and he was rushed to St. Mary’s Hospital in Kitchener.
He was in and out of the ICU for about two weeks when he received a grave diagnosis.
“The doctor finally came and he said ‘you know, we can’t really help you, you’re dying, you need a new heart,’” Toccalino said.
Prior to the heart attack, he had never spent a day in the hospital and had no known heart issues.
He was a smoker, although he didn’t consider himself to be a heavy smoker, and worked as a structural steel ironworker for 15 years in Toronto and later opened his own business in that field, which he considered to be hard on his body.
Transferred to London, he was kept on a medicine they couldn’t take him off of and he realized he would essentially have to sit on a machine and hooked up constantly to an IV to stay alive. He flatlined on three occasions during his stay.
“They put me on the transplant list and about 24 hours later, it was a miracle that I had a new heart in my chest,” Toccalino said, adding he had a stroke during surgery as well that semi-paralyzed the left side of his body.
It was April 11 he got his new heart and was released about three weeks later.
“I’m just incredibly grateful for life, you know, I really stop and smell the roses to say, enjoy my family, my children and it’s been a very difficult year but like I said, it’s better than the alternative,” Toccalino said.
Through this year of healing, he said he wanted to give back to the community he’s come to love in the three years he’s lived there. Originally from Fergus, he said Palmerston reminds him of his hometown as he remembers it growing up.
Fellow Lions Club member and town councillor Ron Elliott recommended donating towards a new video scoreboard for the Palmerston Arena, which happened to be just a few doors down from where Toccalino lives. This ended up as a $60,000 donation made by James and Cara Toccalino.
“I really love the town of Palmerston, it’s a fabulous town, people here are pleasant, people here are polite and everyone’s been very welcoming,” Toccalino said. “I wanted to give something back.”
Toccalino said he doesn’t know anything about the donor but knows they made the ultimate selfless act and wants to raise awareness on the importance of being an organ donor.
“I’m forever grateful … I’m alive here today because of it,” Toccalino said.