Leslie Bacardi: 2 Hearts and the Gift of Life (Part 1)

John FarrellBy John Farrell10 Minutes

John Farrell: How did you meet Jorge?

Leslie Bacardi: Oh, my goodness. It’s very evident in the movie, 2 Hearts, when you have a chance to see it. I met him on an airplane between Puerto Rico and Miami, and that was about all it took. We were married for 46 years.

JF:  I know that Jorge was misdiagnosed as a young kid with cystic fibrosis, but instead he actually had primary ciliary dyskinesia. Could you tell me a little bit about Jorge and his story?

Leslie: Sure. Jorge was born in Santiago de Cuba. He was born with primary ciliary dyskinesia, which means basically that the cilia in your body do not move in unison so it’s hard for your sinuses to get cleared out, or your lungs to get cleared out, or anything like that. He was diagnosed with this horrible disease, which didn’t turn out to be true.

His parents were told that he might live to the age of seven if they were lucky. Then, he might make it to 14. Then they told him that he could make it to 21. And then they told them, he absolutely would not make it past 40. There was no hope. But he actually lived to be 76 years old, and he fought all of his life.

When he was told that he wasn’t capable of doing things, he would go out and push and work and fight and show them that he could do those things. So, his own will helped him to live and get through all of these challenges.

As he got older, he would have more infections in his lungs. In high school, he had to have a full lobe on one side removed from his lungs and a partial lobe on the other side and he still fought. We used to go diving together and he was able to develop 100% lung capacity with only 75% of his lungs.

He was never somebody to give up. He was always going to go fight. Finally, it got to a point where his lungs just were not going to make it any longer. He was told that he needed to have a lung transplant or that was it. Then we were lucky enough for him to be able to fight and live long enough to get his lung transplant.

JF: That leads into the actual movie, Two Hearts. Could you please explain for us what the movie is about and how his story came to be a feature film?

Leslie: Jorge and I met on a plane between Puerto Rico and Miami, fell in love, got married, and had this extremely wonderful, happy, great marriage. We were not able to have our own children, but we enjoyed all of our nieces and nephews, and they’ve all been a really big part of our lives.

We liked to go cruising, and we were on a cruise one day and happened to meet a lovely couple sitting next to us. We chatted and ended up telling each other our stories. The people we met were the Hool family who happened to own Panda Face Studios and Silver Lion Films in New Mexico. Conrad Hool was fascinated by the whole story. He is the one who instigated this and thought that we really needed to tell this story. The father of Jorge’s donor wrote a book about his son, the transplants, and the people who received the transplants and everything. So, we sent the book to Conrad. Conrad read it, and his mantra became, “We have to tell this story.” And that is how it began.

It had never been our idea to do a movie. We tend to be very private people, but with his encouragement, we decided that was maybe what we needed to do. Thinking about how we could honor his donor, Christopher, and how we could get the message out to the world to a lot more people about organ donation and what organ donation actually means. How it doesn’t only affect the person who receives the organ, but it affects their family. It was a huge gift for me, not just for Jorge, and for all of his immediate family, and all of our friends, and then from there, it goes to the community that benefits also. We were able to build Gabriel House of Care to honor his donor. And that, in turn, has given solace and comfort to a lot of patients who are going through transplants themselves.

JF: What is the main message you hope people take from the story?

Leslie: Our main message is we hope that people will become organ donors. We hope that they will see Christopher honored in a way that is appropriate for him. He gave Jorge the gift of life, which is something we can never repay. But we also want people to come away with a feeling of love, of hope, and that miracles actually do happen. We want people to take a moment to look at the good side of people and not look for the bad things. Especially younger people who tend to be very critical about their friends or their parents or something. I want them to start looking and finding the good things in somebody and share that and let that be your mantra now.

JF: How does faith play a role in what happened in your story?

Leslie: It’s certainly helped us to get through the entire episode. It takes a lot of emotions and a lot of depth and support and love and everything to get through a transplant like this, especially for the caregiver, which was me. I relied on the thought that I wasn’t ever really alone. That there was always somebody by my side who was looking after me too and guiding me also and guiding Jorge and still is. That’s what helped me to get through everything.

JF: How does your story remind us to celebrate life richer in love and commitment?

Leslie: I think just by watching the movie you can see mannerisms. The actors that played myself and Jorge were able to portray that a lot. There’s a lot of affection for us and we’ve always been like that. It’s like putting money in the bank. If you take good care of somebody every day, and you tell them that you love them, and you do endearing things for them, it’s like you’re putting money in the bank. When you have a bad day, now you have something to fall back on because you’ve already done all of that. We were able to live our lives with no regrets. We did everything we wanted to do. We said everything we wanted to say, so it wasn’t as hard for me to lose him because of that. Because I knew we had done everything. It was a gift.

JF: What differences are there between the real-life story and what was portrayed on screen?

Leslie: There are a few inconsistencies in the movie, but you have to be able to tell a movie in Hollywood sometimes. There are a few different changes. There’s nothing monumental. I mean, he was 16 when he left Cuba and really couldn’t run a company or a business like that, but it all tells a good story and there is nothing out of line anywhere along the way. It was done in a very smart way.