Patti and Chet's Story, a Donor and a Recipient

Patti was the youngest of six children and loved the outdoors. In 1994 while on a camping trip, she called her dad Chet to tell him what a great time she was having. “I remember telling her to be safe and enjoy herself. It was the last time we talked.”

Tragedy struck in the wee hours of the morning when Patti was involved in a car accident and near death. “There are no words to describe the feelings you go through at that moment,” said Chet. However, he began to recall a conversation with Patti four years earlier, letting him know that she had signed up to be an organ donor. Chet brought the conversation up to his wife and within minutes they were on the phone with the hospital. “I told them, ‘do everything possible to save this child, but if Patti dies, it was her wish to be an organ and tissue donor.’”

Patti’s brothers were the first ones to be able to book flights and be with her in Tennessee. “I was not sure I was well enough to travel and we desperately wanted some family there with her. I had congestive heart failure and did not have much stamina,” said Chet. Patti’s brothers called and said that she had been declared brain dead. “We immediately made preparations to fly there, as we had decided to disconnect ventilated support and needed to be there with her.”

“Soon after arriving, we met with Suzy, from the Organ Procurement Organization, who went over various options with us in terms of Patti’s wishes for organ and tissue donation. The laws are different now, but I had to sign giving my consent and it was the hardest signature I have ever had to write.”

By this time, family members had begun to make arrangements to go home and plan Patti’s funeral. Chet went to lie down. “I was not feeling well and was “heavy” with the decisions that had to be made. At that point, Suzy came running up to me with some news that would dramatically change my life. I had been involved in an investigational drug study and had been on the heart transplant list for four years. I had given up hope of a heart transplant, but was involved in the study in the hope that it would help someone else. Suzy was now telling me that I could have Patti’s heart.”

Suzy informed the family that Patti’s heart could go to her father under the Directed Anatomical Gift Act. “This was a total shock and not anything we had considered, so we initially declined the heart” said Chet. “I was worried that people would think I was being selfish,” but they decided to run it by the rest of the family. They discussed the pros and cons and opted to accept Patti’s heart.

After a flight back to his home state, Chet was scheduled for transplant surgery immediately. “My chest was opened, the transplant began, and at 9:47 a.m. Patti’s heart took its first beat in my chest.” Chet’s recovery was swift - the blueness left his lips and his skin color was good. He immediately felt that he was able to think more clearly.

“I am going on 15 years now and it is like I have a new engine! Beyond a couple of colds, I have been healthy. Prior to my transplant, I had four grandchildren that I could not keep up with. Now I have 12 grandchildren and I can actually pick them up. My biggest satisfaction is my grandchildren because I would have missed knowing many of them if it were not for Patti. The change in how I felt prior to the transplant with how I feel now is truly a miracle this side of heaven.”

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