dad and den

A Heart for Kids. This story is about my dad’s incredible journey as a heart recipient, but it starts here. My parents have always had a heart for children, but were unable to have them biologically. I was adopted from the foster care system on Dec. 17, 1971 in Phoenix, AZ.   When I was 6, they would later adopt my brother, Ted (5) and sister, Samantha (2).  We grew up in a great Christian household.  Going to church was a part of our everyday life and our parents modeled Jesus everyday. Around my freshman year of high school in 1986, my dad started getting lightheaded when he would go on walks. He was very active, was playing soccer and walking regularly.  He went in for a routine physical and they gave him a shock: He was diagnosed with cariomyopathy (a degenerative heart disease) and was told to “go home and get your affairs in order–you have 6 months to live”. Needless to say, we didn’t believe the doctors. After all, he was very active and didn’t seem any different.  However, we were soon proven wrong.  In the months that followed, his health deteriorated rapidly.

dad's ER pic

He would soon be admitted into the hospital and would begin a fight for his life.  At one point, he was kept alive by every machine known to man. He coded 3 times. He saw visions. He couldn’t talk because of all the tubes running in/out of his body. He could only write stuff on a small chalkboard.

The Chalkboard. He was only able to eat ice chips and write on a small chalkboard to communicate. I’ve only seen my dad cry twice in my life. This would be one of those times.  His situation was dire. His health waning.  He was uncomfortable. He was uncertain.  Yet whenever a nurse, doctor, or someone from the medical staff would enter the room, he would motion for his chalkboard.  Did he want the bed raised/lowered?  Did he need his pillow adjusted? Did he want more ice chips?  No.  He would simply write FOUR WORDS: “Do you know Jesus?” That’s a picture I’ll never forget.  A dying man at the end of his life, trying a make a difference in the lives of others for eternity.

Sick Enough to Die, but Well Enough to Live.  The brutal part about transplantation is that in order to “qualify” to be put on the National Organ Transplant List, you have to be sick enough to die (from your condition), but well enough to live (through the surgery). For many weeks, my dad was too sick to survive the surgery.  The outlook wasn’t good. His health was failing fast. As he slowly deteriorated, we called the elders of CCV to come pray for him.  They prayed over him and anointed him with oil.  Soon, his body started to respond. He began to improve. Finally, he was deemed “well enough” to be put on the transplant list.

Don’t Pray for Me to Live.  While he waited for a transplant, he refused to let us pray that he would live. Because he knew, “in order for me to live, someone has to die.” Instead, he encouraged us to pray for God’s will.  So, we did. And we waited. I think everyone should spend time in a transplant wing of a hospital at least once in their lifetime.  Every patient in that unit knows that they will die unless people know that time is imminent. Every other patient in his wing died while waiting for a transplant.

Total Teamwork.  While we waited for word, so many people from Christ’s Church of the Valley came to our aid.  My mom moved to Tucson and got an apartment. Staff, friends and family helped act as a shuttle service, babysitters, and just hanging out.  My grandparents moved into our house and stayed with us so we could continue to go to high school.  On the day we got the phone call, Don Wilson drove me from track practice to UMC just as my dad was being wheeled into surgery.

A New Heart. On February 8, 1988  my dad received a heart transplant. He received the heart of a 43 year old woman who passed away in Tucson.  He would correspond with the donor family a few years later.  The first few weeks were precarious. We waited to see if his body would reject the new organ. Many times, transplants die of early infection or rejection.  In fact, every time we went to see him, we had to “scrub down” for 15 minutes with iodine and step into a sanitized “bubble”.  It was like something out of NASA.

dad post transplant

But my dad “took” to his new heart just fine.  Soon, he was walking and riding a stationary bike.  Eventually, the tubes came out. He was breathing better and more effortlessly than he could remember.  His color was better.  He had more energy.  He couldn’t wait to go fishing.

I’ll be there.  While my dad was recovering in Tucson, we would go to high school in Phoenix, then go visit on the weekends.  I was still in track and running became my ‘escape’ from the craziness of life.  As a distance runner, I had flirted with the 5 minute mile a few times as a freshman.  Now as a sophomore, I could feel this was ‘my year’.  In one of our early track meets, as I rounded the turn on lap 1, there were my parents!  They “snuck out of town” to see my race!  I honestly can’t remember the rest of the race, but it was one of the first times I broke the 5 minute mile.

Still Running.  Since all this, my dad is still running. He will celebrate his 50th wedding anniversary this June. He has been able to enjoy seeing all his kids graduate from HS, get married and start families of their own.  He is a grandparent 12 times over. He has worked on staff at Christ’s Church of the Valley for 32 years, and through his life and ministry, he continues to ask people, “Do you know Jesus?”  I am proud to call him my father.  This one’s for you, dad!  Happy 26th Anniversary.

Philippians 3:12-14 says, “Not that I already have obtained all this, or have already arrived at my goal, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me. Brothers and sisters, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.” 

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Comments
  1. Thanks for sharing – what a great story!

  2. Robin Siverts says:

    I love your Dad. He has done and said many things that made a difference in my life and my spiritual walk. He is a miracle, and I pray for his health and continued honoring of God’s will in his life. This story is a wonderful testimony. Thanks for sharing it.

  3. Julie Roush Connet says:

    I remember well, when Ken went to Tucson to join the others in the Laying on of Hands and the Anointing with Oil…It was a very touching time for all of us..

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