Miracle Moments

HE VIEW FROM THE WINDOW of the hospital at night was breathtaking. Millions of bright lights illuminated the buildings and lined the streets of San Antonio. Colored lights covered the trees along the River Walk and extended out over the city as they twinkled and sparkled like diamonds on a black velvet carpet spread out to welcome Fiesta.

But all of this beauty was not even noticed by Earl Taylor, a desperately ill man, as he lay in his ICU bed listening to the irregular beat of his sick heart. The lines of red, green and yellow slowly dancing across the screen on the monitor attached to his chest were all he could see as he watched it trace the rhythm of his heart.

He had been feeling progressively weaker every day, and now just walking across the room was almost too much effort. Sleeping was difficult, and most of his recent nights had been spent propped up in his living room lounge chair. Now in the hospital and on oxygen, the doctors told Earl that he had about six months left on the warranty of his old flabby heart. If he wanted to live long enough to see his son graduate from college, he needed to consider finding a new heart. Too bad he couldn’t just order one from Bloomingdale’s, he thought.

Earl, at age 47, had been examined upside down and backwards, stuck and probed, educated and psychoanalyzed. Finding him to be a good and well-motivated candidate for cardiac transplantation, the hospital placed him on the United Network Organ Sharing (UNOS) list as a type ‘O’ heart – and a very large heart, at that. A retired Air Force First Sergeant, Earl was 6’2" and 295 pounds. The doctors all warned him that the wait for a heart large enough to support him could take a very long time. Earl didn’t have much time.

Earl drifted off to sleep again, his mind fuzzy from all of the drugs being pumped into his body to keep him alive when…“BANG!” He thought he had been shot as a strong shock wave ripped through his body. With all the energy he could muster, he sat straight up in bed. Shaken and frightened, Earl was happy to find himself still alive as he relaxed and slipped back to sleep.

That night, on the other side of the city, a very depressed 25 year-old man decided to leave this world as he pressed a 35-millimeter revolver to his head and pulled the trigger.

“Doctor, we might have a donor,” the voice on the other end of the phone announced in the early morning hour. “He is a big ‘O’ and clinically brain dead.”

“I’m on my way in,” the transplant surgeon replied. “Maybe this one has Earl’s name on it.”

The entire congregation of the Antioch Baptist Church had been praying for a new heart for Earl, and their prayers were about to be answered. The loss of one life before its time was a hard thing to understand, but the young suicide victim’s family, even in their shock and grief, did an unselfish deed and donated their son’s organs. And Earl found his new heart.

A week later, Earl was out of the hospital and slowly picked up speed. His recovery was right on schedule and he was gaining strength every day. He joined the cardiac rehabilitation program at the hospital and worked out three times a week under the watchful eyes of his physicians. He achieved a miraculous recovery, and his new heart kept on ticking like a well-tuned clock.

Earl, who had always excelled at sports, found himself just one year later in the Transplant Olympic Games in Orlando, Florida, where he signed up for the shot put, softball throw and the 5K race. Over 10,000 transplant recipients and their families cheered Earl and his buddies to victory.

Since then, this big man with a new heart has been a constant visitor to the CHRISTUS Transplant Institute – stopping by to encourage transplant candidates on the UNOS waiting list. Currently, there are over 75,000 patients in desperate need of this ‘gift of life.’ But seeing this robust giant of a man reach out and greet them gives them hope that they, too, might expect a miracle.

Barbara Davis
CHRISTUS Transplant Institute
San Antonio, Texas