'Monk' Actor Jason Gray-Stanford Recalls Miraculous Heart Transplant After Doctors Told Him He Had Months to Live

Monk star Jason Gray-Stanford almost died in December 2019 and needed a life-saving heart transplant. Over a year after that procedure, Gray-Stanford, 51, is sharing his story to raise awareness for organ donations. The Vancouver-born Gray-Stanford starred as Lt. Randy Disher in all eight seasons of Monk, alongside Tony Shalhoub.

In early 2018, Gray-Stanford was diagnosed with heart failure, which meant his heart was not pumping as it should have. He did his best to manage the chronic condition by changing his diet and workout habits and taking his medication. "I was doing what I could to keep the life I liked to lead," he told PEOPLE on Feb. 23. On the morning of Dec. 30, 2019, Gray-Stanford was following his healthy routine while visiting his family in Vancouver. He stopped in a gym and got on a spin bike for a class.

"I was feeling fresh," he said. "Fifteen minutes later I woke up on the floor with all the gym eyes on me. It wasn't just embarrassing; it was a sign that something was definitely wrong."

Ten months later, Gray-Stanford learned that both his heart and kidneys were in complete failure. His doctors said he would need an immediate heart transplant or he would die in a few months. Incredibly, the same day he got that news, a matching donor was available.

The surgery on Nov. 12, 2020, was a success. Since then, he has made a full recovery. "This gift I've been given has relit a light that was almost out," he told PEOPLE. His interview with the magazine was the first time he shared his story and decided to speak out now to encourage people to sign up as organ donors.

"I am so fortunate and so grateful that I was able to receive this transplant," the Mistresses actor told PEOPLE. "If there's a modicum of inspiration someone can take from what I've gone through, then it's my job to get out there, and say something. It's as close to a miracle as you get."

Gray-Stanford began feeling as though something was wrong when he was sluggish during workouts in late 2017 when he was filming an episode of The X-Files. He was "worried" at the time because he didn't understand why he "wasn't performing at my peak." He thought he was just "run down and would bounce back." That didn't happen though, and a doctor found a "very crazy arrhythmia" in January 2018. He was hospitalized and was diagnosed with heart failure. Doctors also found a blood clot in his heart. The news was "surreal" to him, he told PEOPLE.

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The actor's doctors in Los Angeles ran several tests, and they found the cause, idiopathic dilated cardiomyopathy. Doctors think a viral infection may have been the reason for the condition, but Dr. Mustafa Toma of Vancouver's St. Paul's Hospital said they "don't know for sure." Toma added that it is "highly, highly uncommon" for a patient to get an exact match for a heart transplant the day they are told their heart is completely failing. Over a year after the surgery, Gray-Stanford's prognosis is "quite good," Toma said.

"As time passes, I undergo biopsies less frequently. I'm now 14 months out from my heart transplant and I feel great," Gray-Stanford told Today on Feb. 25. "I wear the scar on my chest as a badge of honor. It reminds me how close to death I was, how far I came, and how grateful I am."