I sit here, on the somewhat wet sand, while the sprinkling rain come down, thinking about 20 years ago tonight. On that date – 12/09/91, a young man, just 16 years old, lost his life in a deer hunting accident. His parents, throught kindness, gave his organs, at a time when it wasn’t even as popular today, so that others could live on through him. His heart went to my father-in-law.
Ken had been on the transplant list for almost 4 months, having a heart attack on August 24. His heart function was 16%. There was no artificial heart or bridge really at the time. He would be the 13th heart transplant in our state.
The morning of the 9th, I had gone to see him. His lips were parched, his skin had a gray pallor, and my hopes for a miracle were low. We didn’t expect him to make it through Christmas. My son, his only grandchild, was 1. They had celebrated their almost-same-day birthdays together, in the hospital, a month earlier. We thought it would be his last. He was 50 that years, having been born a few weeks before Pearl Harbor.
The call came around 10pm. The next morning, around 9am, I was set to have my last final exam of the college semester. The first day of classes had been August 25, so the whole semester had been spent unsure of what the future held.
The transplant was successful. The long wait through the hours long surgery seemed like an enternity. It’s a one-shot deal. It’s like a new battery that has been in the closet a while. You’re not certain that it will work at all, and once you take out the old one, there’s no putting it back in.
In our case, it worked. The next morning, we went to see him through the glass wall of his room. He was sitting up, smiling, waving, and his skin was pink, like the shells I see on the beach as I write this. It was an indescribable feeling, most certainly to him. We were ecstatic; another family was devastated. Guilt was present and still is, although it has lessened as time went by.
Ken eventually did meet his donor family. They were nice people. He was able to talk through some of his own guilt and help them throught their sorrow. He was like that, always helping someone other than himself. He was my hero.
He lived for 12 years with his new heart. Those 12 years made me who I am today and gave my son, now 21 of course, a wonderful experience about life, giving, and seeing the good in others. Ken had a bumper sticker on his car that read, “Young at heart. Other parts slightly older.”. Even without his new heart, it was true.
So, tonight, I give thanks to the family who is remembering this day, too. I hope that their hearts are full with love for their son, and I hope that they know how great a gift they gave to mine.