By Jimmy Espy, General Manager
Seven years ago this week a man in Arkansas took his own life. I do not know why he did.
I don’t know much about him at all other than the fact that he was about 50 years old and was a six-footer and weighed about 200 pounds.
And he was an organ donor.
Minutes after the man’s death, a phone call was placed to Birmingham, Ala., and within an hour a skilled surgeon was on board a small jet on his way to Arkansas. When he got there, he examined the man’s heart and found it to be in good condition. The surgeon quickly completed the necessary paperwork and got back on board the plane, carrying a very special package.
The surgeon arrived in Birmingham and was driven to the University of Alabama Hospital where he once again examined the heart.
He liked what he saw.
Shortly after that he went to a small, cold room where a highly-trained surgical team was readying a patient for a transplant.
The procedure did not go smoothly.
The patient was a bleeder. The surgeon, 60ish and Australian-born, later described the patient’s blood loss as “magnificent.”
He joked about taking a nap during the procedure while his team worked feverishly to stanch the bleeding.
The surgery stretched through the evening into the night and into the morning of the following day. The closest patient’s family members, driving in from many miles away, gathered outside in a waiting room, talking, joking and snatching a little sleep when they could.
The news they waited for finally came. The surgery was over and the patient was in recovery. There were no guarantees, but a full recovery was expected.
The patient was expected to sleep for many hours, after the long ordeal in surgery and the substantial amount of anesthesia used. Two days later doctors and nurses started to become concerned as the patient continued to snooze. But finally, as his wife had assured them, the patient woke — confused, scared and oblivious to what he had gone through.
“You had a heart transplant,” he was told. “You got your heart,” his wife assured him.
“Well, nobody told ME,” the irritated patient replied.
The patient got better. It took time, but he regained his mental faculties (such as they were) and most of his physical ability.
Best of all, he got back to being a husband, father, brother and a loving owner of three cats and a dog. He went back to work and made a buck or two.
He got to enjoy sunsets over the Gulf of Mexico, Ronald Acuña’s home run swing, old horror movies and the country fried steak and gravy at The Village.
He got to see his young daughter sing publicly for the first time, his wife become a two-time Pulitzer Prize runner-up and his dog learn how to swim.
He got to see his Rams back in the Super Bowl and the Dawgs play for a national title.
He welcomed new members to the family and mourned the loss of far too many family and friends.
And well into the seventh year of his great second chance, he became the general manager and editor of The Chatsworth Times.
He — I — am a walking miracle. Every step I take, every sweet and tender moment I have enjoyed the last seven years, was gifted to me by a man I never met and whose name I’ll never know.
In his great despair, he took his life while at the same time giving me back mine.
Organ donation is a gift so powerful, a good so sublime, I hope everyone will consider it. Please make the commitment. Please give someone else the best gift of all.
Jimmy Espy is general manager and editor of The Chatsworth Times.