On December 3rd, 1967 in Capetown, South Africa, Dr. Christian Barnard performed the first successful heart transplant. The patient Louis Washkansky lived eighteen days.
December 3rd, 1967 was a Sunday. I was probably hanging out at my best friends house. I was always at her house, In fact we probably had a sleep over. E, as yet unknown to me was a few blocks away probably playing soccer in the Dunbar soccer league with his friends. We were oblivious to Dr. Barnard and his miracle surgery.
December 1999 would have appeared on the outside to be a typical Christmas at our family home. Although the lights were up on the outside of our house, it was Papa not E who helped our sons put them up. There was a tree in the window but for the first time it was an artificial tree. I could not cope with strapping a live tree on our van. I was coping with a lot at the time and tree shopping seemed to be too much…
E had just spent his 33rd night in the hospital. He was sent home with a pager. Officially on the heart transplant list we had no idea when the call would come through for his surgery. I prepared Christmas almost immediately after his release. Presents were quickly purchased and wrapped… Everything was as organised as possible so our kids could have a normal Christmas…. even if the beeper beeped.
For E, other than his weakened state and his “beeper” beard.. (kind of like a playoff beard but.. well you get the idea)…..His mood remained calm and unworried. His tradition of building the gingerbread house with the kids went smoothly. No one and I mean no one was worried that things wouldn’t work out… Our daily Christmas routine was to all intents and purposes as normal as possible. I saw to it…
Fifty years after the first heart transplant we live off grid on an island. Our renovation continues. E was again covered in drywall dust in the never-ending battle to finish the bathroom. He installed the bathroom light which proved to be an uncomfortable job.
The sun shone as I carried flooring down to the house from the studio. Fifty… thirty pound boxes so far with nine more to go. I carry three at a time… It’s slow going.
E lives a very physically taxing life on the island. Some days and it doesn’t happen very often, he runs out of steam and he is forced to acknowledge that he has justified limitations. He still takes fifteen pills a day but that doesn’t stop him from enjoying the life we have here. He is the perfect example of why the gift of life works. We are eternally grateful to the donor family and Dr. Christian Barnard. If you haven’t signed your organ donation card… please do…
As it turned out, E had to wait until March, 2000 for his new heart. A heart which has given him eighteen extra Christmas’s to spend with his family ….and we
are still counting