It's my wife's dad, Chuck Berger
. He is pretty much the quietest, most low key guy, you wouldn't give him a second glance, he used to be a mailman
. He had a bad heart
. One winter when he was a kid on the farm in Wisconsin
he got rheumatic fever
and it damaged his heart. I guess it wasn't so bad or at least didn't seem so, he had a career in the Air Force
and lived all over the world doing secret stuff listening to the Russians
. He retired after his 20 years and went to work as a letter carrier
in So. California
. But he had a heart attack
and had to have quadruple bypass
back in the early 70's when it was still experimental surgery
. It fixed him good enough that he was able to go back to delivering mail, but his heart just wasn't a good one and his cardiac output was less and less and he had to retire. When his father-in-law died, he and his wife and his mother-in-law all moved up to live nearer to my wife and I, she's an only child. His quality of life wasn't bad, he went to work for Sears
in the parts department, played pool at the clubhouse, had a quiet life.
He started to go downhill, no energy, tired all the time, on a zillion meds, but by the early/middle '80s it was clear that time was running out. My wife and I decided that if we were ever going to start a family, it had better be soon and sure enough she became pregnant. Boy, that really perked him up, the prospect of seeing his grandchild
and for the next year he hung in there pretty good. But when our little girl was only a few months old, he had a massive heart attack while at the base exchange during a shopping trip in Novato
. He was rushed to the local little hospital which ended up having and excellent cardiac care unit (it's in Marin County if you know Northern California). While he was there he had 3 more episodes any one of which would have killed him if he hadn't already been in the CCU
with all the monitors and cath lines in him. They got him stabilized and put in a pacemaker and he finally went home, but the doctors told my wife's mom that he had less than 6 months, his heart was just worn out.
One day his cardiologist asked him "Would you consider a heart transplant
?" The surgery was still in its infancy, only Stanford
was approved to do it and the program was very limited, but there was an experimental program starting at Pacific Presbyterian
Well, he went in for eval and he seemed like a good candidate. He was only 55 and the rest of his body was in ok shape. Usually the candidates they got were a lot older and had other medical problems besides the heart, but since it was experimental surgery, his insurance companies said they wouldn't pay for it. The cost was projected tens and tens of thousands with thousands more for follow up care and meds. But Pacific Persbyterian said that since he was such a good candidate, they'd do the surgery even if they weren't paid. He was tissue typed
and put on the list. They called him 2 times to come down to the City because they thought they had a match, but each time it wasn't just right, there are 4 major factors that have to match and it wasn't right. Finally it was third time lucky, we got the call in the middle of the night that he was going in and we jumped in the car and drove like mad to the hospital with our 6 month old baby.
We got there just as he was signing the consent form, and that was it. He was giving permission for them to cut his heart out
. I know it seems like a no brainer
to do what a person has to for a chance to live, but I'll never forget seeing him do that. I've thought about that moment a lot.
He was patient number 28. The heart was from a 36-year-old man who had crashed his motorcycle
and had become brain dead
. There were more organs
available for transplant before we had a motorcycle helmet law
here. The heart took and within 6 months he was back working part-time at Sears again. We have a son too, and my children have been able to know their grandpa. The average length of time a heart transplant patient lives after surgery is 5 years, Chuck is now nearly 15 years after his. The cyclosporin he's had to take all these years finally ruined his kidneys
and he has been on dialysis
for a few years, but every Christmas
is another memory that we all almost missed.
Chuck is in the hospital now in S.F., he had a bad GI bleeder and lost a lot of blood, dialysis patient's veins and arterys
become thin and they are prone to this. My wife and her mom are there, but the repair that was done went okay and he will be able to come back home when he gets his strength back.
Don't ever give up, ever, never. You don't know what will happen. Fill out a donor card
and keep it in your wallet. Here's to you Chuck.