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Column: Heart patient knows miracle

Posted: October 9, 2018 1:28 p.m.
Updated: October 9, 2018 1:27 p.m.

My own heart surgery is two and a half years behind me now, but I never will forget my emotions after being told my aortic valve had to be replaced.

First, I wanted to know what the alternative was. I was told I would die, probably within five years.

Second, I cursed the situation in which I found myself. There is some why-Me-Lord in all of us.

Third, with the help of my doctors, I came to realize I was indeed fortunate to live in a time when something could, in fact, be done to restore me to health.

Bert Jordan was wrestling with much the same sort of emotions when we talked on the telephone recently. Bert Jordan is 47. Some months back an unknown virus attacked his heart. He became dreadfully short of breath and could not speak without coughing.

Doctors tried to treat him with medication, but finally they told him the only way he could remain alive was to have a heart transplant.

At first, he refused. He said it was too expensive. He said he would rather die than put his family, which includes three children, into bankruptcy. He had been told to expect the cost of the operation to be at least $150,000.

Bert Jordan was depressed. He couldn’t understand why such a thing was happening to him. His ministers talked to him. His family and friends talked to him but he wouldn’t budge. He was horrified at the idea that someone else would have to die for him to live.

“I couldn’t find anywhere in the Bible where I’m supposed to take a heart from somebody else,” he said.

But the human will to live normally will overcome such feelings, and when I talked to Bert Jordan last week, he was in his room at the University of Alabama at the Birmingham Hospital, awaiting a donor heart to be located for him.

“It could be two hours, two days, or two weeks before I get a donor,” he said. “It’s the waiting, the not knowing, that is rough.”

A computer hookup with organ procurement agencies alerts the hospital when a donor is found. Doctors immediately fly to the donor site and remove the heart. If it is considered compatible with the recipient, a call is made back to Birmingham, in this instance, and as the donor heart is being helicoptered from the airport, the natural heart of the recipient is being removed.

When Bert Jordan and I talked, I did my best to reassure him. Others who had had heart surgery did that for me, and it helped.

Two days later, his anxious wait was over. A donor, a 23-year-old male accident victim, was located. Six hours later, the victim’s heart was beating inside Bert Jordan.

“When he found out they had located a donor,” said a friend of the family, “Bert said, ‘I am at peace.’”

He came through the operation fine. Doctors are optimistic about his recovery.

Heart transplants aren’t really big news anymore. In this modern, hi-tech world, what was astounding one day becomes simply commonplace the next.

That is, unless it is your heart that is giving up and it is your life at stake.

Then, and only then, can you really understand what happens when a wounded heart is mended or a dying heart is replaced and life, sweet life, is extended.

Then you know you have been spared by a miracle.

(Lewis Grizzard was an award winning and much beloved Southern writer and syndicated columnist. He passed away in 1994.)

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