Washington firefighter returns to duty after heart transplant

(Photo: Reece Chambers)
Joseph Suttner

CHIMACUM, Wash. (KING) — Just 18 months after a heart transplant, Reece Chambers passed the physical test required to return to full duty with East Jefferson Fire Rescue.

Chambers is the first person in Washington to go back to his job as a firefighter after a heart transplant. He spent months recuperating and retraining his body to do basic things like walk up stairs before he could even think about preparing for the firefighter physical.

Chambers said the decision to get a heart transplant and then to go back to work was not optional.

"I was done being sick. I wanted to be better. I wanted to be the man my wife deserved and the dad my kids deserved, and I wanted to be the fireman that I knew I could be," Chambers said. "And the heart transplant was the only way I could get that done."

After waiting for only six months on the heart transplant list, Chambers had the operation and he was able to begin the long recovery process that led him back to his job.

He recognized that a transplant is a lifelong process, and while he may be back on the firefighting team, he is forever changed.

"Once that hard part is done, it's not a fairy tale. There's a lot of life-long things I'll have to do as far as care goes and medications," Chambers said. "It's wonderful, but its also kinda like this is a lifetime of recovery I'm going through."

Chambers was inspired by the actions of firefighters he witnessed after his brother died over two decades ago. Since then, he wanted to be the person that made a difference in other people's lives, the way first responders impacted him.

Walking into the office after a long absence, Chambers said nothing has changed.

"It was like walking back into my home," he said.

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