Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Have a Heart! Our Heart Transplant Story

It is Valentine's Week....(as if you didn't know this little tidbit) and according to retail stores nationwide it's time for you to get with the program and buy anyone you ever smiled at a heart shaped box of chocolates, bears holding hearts and flowers and maybe even roses.

We don't ignore Valentine's Day at my house but we don't go crazy either. I am usually given the Chocolate of Gods aka Reese's Hearts and we exchange cards....the kiddos get a little something and we make some cutesy Valentine's that I get to fold up and put away into their never ending boxes of keepsakes. Whoever doesn't enjoy drawing hearts out of glue and then smothering them in glitter might as well be named Professor ColdHeart.

I love to decorate with hearts around the house....as a woman from the South there must be something to do with each holiday hanging around my house or I will be kicked out of the Southern Women Making Hobby Lobby Rich Club.

But hearts are not just a decoration to us anymore.

Here is where the story begins.....

My dad.

You could ask anyone that knows my dad to describe him in a few words and I could bet that these words would come up repeatedly:
hard worker
a good guy

My dad doesn't meet a stranger....he's quite a charmer which I see in my own sons....and when I was a kid my dad could make me laugh like no one else. He used to play a mean harmonica while our doberman sang along. And no one, I repeat, no one can do the Ostrich Dance like my dad. His taste in music is impeccable, I can only attribute my parents' love of music for making me a lover of it as well. He also loves to read, played golf up until his heart told him "no more" and even used to hunt alligators.
I could tell you so much about my dad but I'll tell you one thing about him that you would never know by looking at him.....
He is a heart transplant recipient.
That's right. He was blessed enough to be given a new lease on life.
On October 14, 2011 my dad was life flighted from our small town to the Methodist DeBakey Heart and Vascular Center in Houston, Texas.
Methodist Hospital has been the only hospital my dad has trusted with his heart health from the beginning, how amazing it is to be so close to one of the leading hospitals in the country.
At this time Dad's health was not looking great and although we all kept ourselves strong for Dad's sake, we were all terrified. Knowing his heart just couldn't do all the work it was doing anymore was a humbling fact. You always think there's one more thing that can be done, at least one more thing...but at this point there was just one more option left.
He had a heart pump put in while waiting for his new heart. Many days were spent in the CCU at Methodist Hospital knowing we were waiting on a heart.
The struggle here is obvious....my dad needed a new heart but in receiving a new heart we knew that someone else would be losing someone they love very much. Your prayers become conflicted and confusing. You struggle with the right words and a way to wrap your brain around it.
My family and I all took turns and days hanging with dad in the hospital....he was probably tired of us hanging out in his room but we never wanted to leave him alone. I was en route to the hospital, literally a block away, when my step mom called and gave me the news....a heart might be available. Now, at the time of this news all of those conflicted prayers become sighs of relief and tears of joy. I wasn't even sure if Dad knew the big news until I walked into his room. But he did. We all tried keeping very calm. Which is, I believe, one of the hardest things I've had to do. But I can't even imagine  what my dad must have been feeling. It is overwhelming to say the least. Exciting and scary.
At this point, everything was moving in strange mixture of slow motion and then fast forward. Everyone involved with the transplant team were prepping Dad and making sure everything was set in motion in case the heart was viable. Viable is the word of the day. You hope and you pray that the heart is viable. Time starts really slowing down after all of the prep work is done and you're waiting....waiting for news. And then they tell you....
The heart is viable.
There's a small window of time that everything has to be done. And in this small window of time I can only relate to recipient families. I had to get to the chapel downstairs. I felt a desperate need to pray and thank God for helping my dad and at the same time wanting this donor's family to feel our extreme  gratefulness for the blessing of life. That heart wrenching decision is one I could never begin to imagine or understand. You know that at the same moment you are sitting in the ICU waiting room, waiting for your dad to come out of surgery, someone else has lost their life. In a hospital, this is a normal thing. Life and death. But then you realize that everyone is a part of their own story. Now, our stories are interconnected. That of ours and the donor's family.
On November 6, 2011, my dad, Earl Saville underwent a heart transplant. At 66 years old, he was given life. That heart beats on. That heart allows my dad to be the person he always was and the person he is now.
A husband. A father. A grandfather. A brother. A son. A friend. An uncle. A cousin. A co worker. And now most importantly, a heart transplant recipient.

Let me be extremely honest, before my dad became so ill I had not really given organ donation a lot of thought. Don't we always find comfort in the fact that it will never happen to us? I'm the Queen of that thought process.
But it does happen.
And as much as we all like to be organized and plan for everything organ donation is not usually something in the plan. We just assume that our family can just "tell the hospital how we feel" if something was to happen. But this is not the case. Put yourself in the shoes of someone who just lost a loved one....and now imagine giving permission for your loved one's organs to be donated to those who are in desperate need.
We would all like to think that it would be a no brainer....but there is no way that's possible. At that moment there could be no harder decision. What if....your loved one had already set these plans into action? What if....your loved one had already made their own decision? It would still be unbearably hard but it wouldn't be a burden to bear. As a mother of three children I would not want my children trying to make a decision like this. My immediate family knows how I feel about organ donation but will it be easy to make that call in the moment? Of course not. It needs to be handled by me beforehand. Why not register to be an organ donor now and ease your mind? It takes all of 5 minutes.

Back to my dad....he came out of the heart transplant like a champ and recovered quicker than even the doctors were expecting. He has had ZERO rejection which is almost unheard of. He came home the day before Thanksgiving November 2011 and it was 3 extremely rough months of recovery but then it was like the veil was lifted and he started coming back to life! I thank God above for the unfailing support of my step mother, who stands by my dad's side no matter what and pushes him through the hard times and lifting him up when he needs it.

Since his heart transplant, my dad has been on camping trips, made it to basketball and soccer games for his grand kids, experienced Christmas Eve and Christmas Day with his family, gone back to work and just enjoyed living life.  He doesn't take this life for granted, he's been there and knows each day isn't promised. He has his whole life ahead of him!

We are forever indebted to the family that gave the gift of life.  My purpose in writing in this is not only to honor my father but to raise awareness for organ donation. Why not make Valentine's Day the day where you make the biggest decision of your life?

Head over to Donate Life and sign up to be an organ donor. You can determine for yourself what you do or don't want to donate when the time comes. It is a simple process and only takes a few minutes, I promise. As simple of a process as it is, it is still a hard decision and one not to take lightly.

We still pray every night and thank God for all He has done for my dad and we also ask that He continues to keep him healthy and strong. Seems to be working so far! Even his hair has come back fuller and darker than ever and his eyesight has improved....amazing what good blood flow can do!

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