Being raised by a single parent, I occasionally accompanied my mother to her training courses when she was a registered nurse. I remember how she taught a CPR class to her fellow nurses, demonstrating compressions on a dummy. It left a lasting impression on me about heart health and what people do about it. When I heard that one of my favorite actors, Jason Gray-Stanford, is currently an advocate for heart health, I called him on Zoom to chat about his career and heart transplant experience.
Throwback to the days of dubbing
Gray-Stanford is perhaps best known for his role as Lt. Randy Disher on the hit television series, Monk. His appearances include Legends of tomorrow, The boys, iZombieand Bones. However, I first encountered his work through Saturday morning cartoons when he was still a voice actor in the 1990s. He lent his superb voice talents to Joe Higashi in Fatal FurySherlock Holmes in Sherlock Holmes in the 22nd centuryKento in Ronin WarriorsRaditz in the first English dub of Dragon Ball Zand other memorable characters.
“I remember those days very well and had such a great time doing it. I’m surprised so many people like anime stuff. It still holds up,” he said.
“What I find great about dubbing is [that] you are always in the moment. Often when you lay things down, you do them in triplets, even with something as simple as saying hello. They could use any of these three. You have to be on your toes and you never know what someone else might offer.
His experiences as a voice actor are still relevant to his in-person acting in film and television. “The best thing I took away from the voice acting that I try to apply to everything else is that it’s so much fun.”
On the popularity of ‘Monk’
Even though Monk Wrapped up in 2009 on USA Network, the show about everyone’s favorite obsessive-compulsive detective (Tony Shalhoub) continues to spark interest and conversations among fans old and new. It is available to stream on Peacock. To look back on the race and celebrate Monk fans, Gray-Stanford launched The Randy Disher Podcast last year with executive producer Lara Arocho.
He is very proud of these encounters with Monk fans and interviews with Ted Levine (Leland Stottlemeyer), Traylor Howard (Natalie Teeger), and even series creator Andy Breckman. “Hopefully we’ll come back and do more podcasts. We’ll see what happens. I can’t say too much, but the Monk fans might have some interesting news.
Speak “from the heart”
Gray-Stanford became a dedicated heart health advocate after her harrowing experience with heart failure. Troubling symptoms surfaced around 2017 in his late 40s, surprising him for leading an active lifestyle. Since his heart couldn’t pump enough blood through his body and a healthy rhythm couldn’t be maintained, he eventually needed a pacemaker in 2019 and a heart transplant in 2020.
I asked him what training you need to be a health advocate. “All the training I had was through what I went through. No pun intended, you speak from the heart,” he replied.
Although the focus is his personal story, the 52-year-old is always looking for opportunities to provide context for his audience. He gave me an example of a key point: “The American Heart Association funded and researched the first portable, battery-powered pacemaker. It is thanks to them that this progress has been made.
From July 29 to August 3, Gray-Stanford will be busy in San Diego, Calif. with the 2022 Transplant Games. Not only does he participate in the 5K Walk/Run, but he will also be an ambassador for the Games.
On recovering from a heart transplant
I went looking for some post-transplant stats regarding physical recovery. A patient needs time to overcome the symptoms of organ rejection as well as to heal their incision and fractures. The Temple Health FAQ states that full recovery from a heart transplant can take three months. According to Cedars-Sinai Medical Center, returning to work takes about six months.
Gray-Stanford pointed out that recovery is complicated. This can vary from person to person, depending on the end goals. “I wanted to go back to exactly what I was before and be as physically fit as I was. I didn’t want to be limited by my heart transplant, so it definitely took longer. Once I started feeling better, the real work began.
Along the way, he felt like it was “one step forward, two steps back.” There was also a mental recovery that extended well beyond the six months of physical recovery.
“I had to take a long time off to play. I didn’t know if I was going to be able to do it again one day.”
You’re not alone
It’s important to ask your doctors questions and “be your best advocate” when navigating medical appointments, especially during a difficult diagnosis. Gray-Stanford cautioned, “Don’t dwell too much on the internet, where you think you can figure it all out.”
In these critical times, reach out to family and friends for support. “Remember that it’s okay to accept help and ask for help. Often we feel like we are alone and no one understands what we are going through.
Finally, Gray-Stanford believes in the power of positivity. “My family uses humor. Bad jokes are great! The wonderful nurses and staff [also] told me that the people they see who have positive attitudes seem to recover faster, have fewer complications, and live longer, happier lives.
Ways to build a healthier lifestyle
Thinking back to K-12 school, I wondered if we needed to do more early health education so that we could address our health issues as adults. Gray-Stanford replied, “Even though they look like a general overview, these are things that almost anyone can do to get started. I always say start small. Some people don’t come out right away with good nutrition and health education.
Start with the building blocks of healthier eating, maintaining a healthy weight and exercising. Rather than trying to lift weights or run a marathon right away, he recommends the small step of taking a walk around your neighborhood. After that, add more complex activities and address any health issues as they arise. “One of the most important things is to make sure you go to the doctor. If something is wrong, go to the doctor.
According to Gray-Stanford, monitoring your stress is another way to take things to the next level and stay healthy. “One thing I realized and still struggle with today is stress. Try to manage stress. We are all stressed, especially in the world we live in today. With the pandemic , we have all been taxed mentally and emotionally.Stress has such negative effects.
What can I do in the community?
An effective way to help people with organ failure is to register as an organ donor. According to the Health Resources and Services Administration, the national transplant waiting list is 106,081 people. A single donor “can save eight lives and improve more than 75 others”.
If you’re not ready to register, you can engage in basic security practices. Gray-Stanford agreed with the list I prepared. You can take CPR and first aid classes one afternoon. The next time you go to the office, the grocery store, or the local gym, make a mental note of which office to call for help, where to find the AED, and how you might lend a hand to someone in distress. These simple steps can make a difference and save lives in your community.
More than a year after his heart transplant, Gray-Stanford feels healthy, is following his diet and maintaining a high level training regimen. He is grateful for his new heart and happy to share his story. Anyone can make changes in their own life wherever they are, whether they feel like they’re not “exercising much” or have eaten “too many crisps”.
“I believe everyone has the right to do whatever they want to do, but one of the reasons I’m bringing this up is to spread the word. If I can provide a modicum of inspiration to anyone and touch one person, or two, three or four people, that would be great.
If you want to hear fascinating Monk Jason Gray-Stanford anecdotes, see The Randy Disher Podcast website. Visit the Transplant Games 2022 website to register and find the schedule of events.