TAMPA (WFLA) – The wait is finally over for an Army veteran and father from Clearwater who desperately needed a heart transplant.

“I’m gonna do everything I can to live a good life and be worthy of that gift that was given to me,” Hector Fernandez told 8 On Your Side from his hospital bed two days after the surgery.

Fernandez, 49, put his life on the line serving in the U.S. Army for a decade from 1994 to 2004. It has been seven years since the father of four learned he had a congenital heart defect from a gene mutation.

“We were scared because I wasn’t sure we’d get that transplant in time,” Fernandez said.

The time was 2:50 in the morning last Saturday when a doctor and two nurses at Tampa General Hospital told Fernandez that his family’s prayers were answered.

“They said a donor heart has been found, I immediately broke out in tears and said, ‘my suffering is over,’” Fernandez said.

By Sunday morning, he was in the operating room after the donor heart from a young man in Alabama arrived.

“I started walking 26 hours after the transplant and I never felt as good as I have in years,” Fernandez said. “It’s a true miracle what they’ve done for me at Tampa General.”

His wife Amy has visited him every day in the ICU. She said she’s already noticing a difference.

“Absolutely, he’s stronger his color is better today,” she said. “Just the energy in his voice is better today. He wanted to do two laps around the unit the doctors told him no let’s wait.”

Since 8 On Your Side first shared his story on Veterans Day, Fernandez said he’s received many donations to help pay off medical bills.

“I totally thank you for making that happen and all the folks at WFLA, so appreciative because its taking a huge burden of my mind,” Fernandez said.

After this pivotal life changing moment, Thanksgiving takes on a new meaning for Fernandez 15 year after losing his mother to suicide.

“I had that cloud hanging over me every Thanksgiving holiday,” he said, “but now its gone. I feel like I have a new chance of life.”

Fernandez said doctors told him he should stay at TGH for another two to three weeks, so he should be home with his wife and children in Clearwater before Christmas.