PITTSBURGH (KDKA) — Christmas 2013 wasn’t a very merry one for former Pirates pitching star and TV sports commentator Kent Tekulve.

That’s when he finally knew that his failing heart was giving out for good.

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“My heart had been going downhill for quite a few years now. It was last Christmas Eve where I basically said I can’t do this anymore, I give up,” Tekulve told KDKA sports anchor Bob Pompeani in an exclusive interview that was Tekulve’s first TV appearance since a successful heart transplant a month ago.

Last December, Tekulve’s doctors at Allegheny General Hospital fitted him with an artificial heart pump known as LVAD, short for left ventricular assist device.

The device helps the heart’s left ventricle pump blood to the aorta, which carries oxygenated blood to the rest of the body.

Eight months later, Tekulve finally went on a transplant waiting list and received his heart transplant in September.

“It was a long summer. I lost about 30 pounds, but I wouldn’t recommend the diet to anyone,” Tekulve joked to Bob. “It was a long journey, but fortunately, at the end of the day it worked out okay.”

Bob asked Tekulve what it was like to wait for a donor heart.

“When you’re on that list, there is no end point,” said Tekulve. “It’s not like two weeks from Thursday is going to be the day. It could be six days; it could be six weeks, six months, could be a year and half. You just don’t know. You’re more really dealing with the present than thinking of the future, and then all of a sudden one morning you get a phone call saying ‘Mr. Tekulve we have a heart for you.’ And all of a sudden, your whole mindset changes.”

Tekulve said the process was very emotional for a number of reasons.

“Obviously, the enormity of what’s going on, the effect it’s going to have on your life,” remembered Tekulve.

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He says he was also overwhelmed by the outpouring of support from his colleagues at ROOT Sports and the Pirates. Many knew how sick Tekulve was, even as he continued to work and attempted to keep his condition private.

“Some of the people I heard from right after the LVAD was put in were all the [Pirates] coaching staff. I heard from every single one of them almost immediately,” said Tekulve.

Full Interview With Kent Tekulve:

Tekulve says he doesn’t yet know who donated his new heart, but hopes someday to be able to thank the donor’s family. The experience has reaffirmed his support for organ donation.

“I’ve always been an organ donor. You want people to sign up to be organ donors, but then you never want them to have to do it because you want them to live a happy and healthy life. But their willingness to be able to share with someone else is just off the charts as far as above and beyond what you could expect from anybody else.”

Tekulve choked up when he told Bob what the donor’s gift of life means not only for him, but for his family.

“I’ve got a grandson going to be born in December. Without that heart I would never have known him. Now I will,” he said.

Tekulve says he’s feeling well and his doctors say his prognosis is good. He calls the whole experience life changing.

“It was a very different experience,” he said. “Another one of those life things that puts everything in a different perspective than it was the day before.”

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