Here and there, even in our jaded, anonymous, harsh, and often tragic world, we still find books like Chicken Soup For The Soul. Someone even gave me a copy after my heart attack and, worse yet, the attacked heart is weak and craves support and stories of love and happiness — I liked it! It has its sequels and imitators and blogs, columns and news of happy things to take our minds off the wars, death, tensions and tragedies. Normally, I give them some berth and head for the juicier items.
Today, while I hunted my RSS feeds and Internet news sources, a story popped out that my damaged and sometimes needy heart needed. Perhaps it will spread some feelings of love and destiny, of odd goodness in a world of many things that are less than good. Listen up while you sip that chicken soup.
The news from South Carolina includes the story of Cheryl Cottle whose husband, Terry, died back in '95 at an early age of 33, poor fellow. It is awful to think of young people dying before they have a chance to fully live, but die he did. Cheryl, whose heart must also have some deep feelings of wanting to spread life, donated his heart so that another person just might be able to live on it. It was done and I assume she mourned her young husband and cheered his heart on as it traveled in some ice-chest to a transplant center, where teams of white coats labored to beat the short deadlines to install it in a dying man.
The man, Sonny Graham - who was 57 years old back then in 1995 – was said to be dying of congestive heart failure. It is a condition and status I have been in and, although I decided against transplant, I have survived. These are not easy decisions and the results are not often so positive as was my survival, and the new life with a healthy heart that this Sonny Graham met because of the kindness of the Cottles, the kindness of strangers to strangers. Down he flew to the Medical University of South Carolina in Charleston. They had the heart. He braved that little rotary saw with which they cut breast-bones, the tubes inserted here and there and almost everywhere, and the pain that comes later and makes itself at home. He survived the wait, the operation, the rejection and the recuperation.
He had only been told that the heart he received was from a 33 year old South Carolinian. The information is confidential, but in '96 he received the name of the family that had donated the organ. He wrote a letter to the South Carolina Organ Procurement Agency (now LifePoint Inc.) to be sent to them. Cheryl replied with a short description of her family and some pictures, no particulars, no address.
Sonny wrote to LifePoint again and forwarded his number. They got together down in Charleston, shared dinner at the California Dreaming Restaurant and, Sonny relates, “She gave me that big smile, and I said, ‘Well, looky here.’ I felt like I had known her for years. I couldn’t keep my eyes off her. I just stared.”
The relationship went on until 2004, when they married to live in Vidalia, GA. She is working as a hospice nurse and he has his own landscaping business. Together in one of those amalgamated families they have 6 children and 6 of the grand variety.
Their statements show them to be of the religious persuasion. “What we’ve always said is you can’t take your organs with you to heaven,” Sonny said, “and heaven knows they’re needed here.”
Put it on your driver's licence, put it in your living will, let everybody who will be dealing with your affairs know and carry a donor card which you can get from The Government Organ Donor's website. Discuss it with your family, lawyer, religious leader — let it be known.
It sounds as if Sonny lucked out and got a really good one — not just young and healthy but warm and caring. For myself who decided against it, there has always been the worry that I may have got a really cold as coal, nasty, brutish heart. Homer Simpson once got a hair transplant and turned into a killer. What would Dean Koontz or Stephen King say?
Cheryl lost her Terry and got another man she loves who shares the same heart. How heartening!