The Transplant

5/16/2015 – I wrote the column below which appeared in the September 24th edition of The Mountain Press to spread the word of Gary Grismore’s need for a heart transplant.

Today, I am thrilled to pass along the message of his wife, Beth, that Gary has a brand new beating heart in his chest this morning!

This has been a long journey for Beth, Gary and their beautiful daughter.  Today doesn’t mark them crossing the finish line though.  This is, at best, midway through their journey as now the very long recovery begins, the living in a hotel room near Vanderbilt begins, the lifelong anti-rejection treatment begins, the medical bills begin (or really just continue) rolling in.

I can’t imagine the flood of emotions Gary will feel when he wakes up to know he has a new, healthy heart in his chest.

I wrote this column hoping to help ease their burden in some small way.  I hope it has and will continue to do so.

9/24/2014

I recently had a “My Name is Earl” moment.  For those unfamiliar, the nutty sitcom is full of laugh-out-loud moments as a man named, unsurprisingly, Earl is convinced he has bad karma and can only regain good karma by righting the wrongs he has committed in his life. He keeps a handwritten list of his wrongs, updated periodically as he recalls (and errantly commits) additional indiscretions.  His list, I am glad to say, is far lengthier and weightier than mine.

Still, mine has some heft to it, and an opportunity to scratch one off presented itself while attending Kodak United Methodist Church a week ago.  The pastor announced a brief meeting after the service for those interested in helping Gary and Beth Grismore through a significant life struggle.

Beth Gilbert (as I knew her) graduated Sevier County High School’s Class of ’88 with me.  We never ran in the same circles, and if she remembered me at all, or even worse, if she remembered me accurately, she would have no fondness for me.  In our four years, I cannot recall one time that I ever spoke to her.  Not a “How are you today?” in the lunch line, a “Good Luck” on a test, or even a single “Hello” in the hallway.  Like most teens, I was caught up in my clique, and the rest of the world, including Beth, was irrelevant.

As the pastor made his announcement, I impulsively decided to attend, hoping to make recompense for those years of self-centeredness by sitting through a presentation and making a small donation.  That was my plan.

But then Gary began to speak.  He described the journey he has traveled, calmly explaining that the fanny pack at his waist was not a hold-over fashion statement from the ‘90s, but a temporary lifeline.  Gary is a heart transplant candidate on the waiting list at Vanderbilt, and in the meantime, a Left Ventricular Assisted Device essentially keeps his blood pumping by way of a mechanical heart in his chest powered by batteries in the fanny pack.

When Gary gets “The Call,” he and Beth will immediately leave for Nashville and Gary will undergo a lifesaving heart transplant.  After his discharge, they are required to live in a hotel within 10 minutes of the transplant center for six weeks so Gary can be monitored for signs of rejection. Gary must then remain off work for an entire year, and to prevent his body from rejecting the organ, he will spend the rest of his life taking 18 pills a day, just one of which will cost $5,000 per month.

No, that was not a typo, it is $5,000 – a month.  If that gives you sticker shock, just imagine how it must feel to know that the surgery you need to remain living approaches one million dollars.

Incredibly, both Gary and Beth expressed gratitude, thankful that insurance would help cover some costs of the surgery, medications, and even a portion of the post-surgery lodging.  Personally, I would not find much comfort in trusting an insurance company to cover “some” of a million dollar surgery necessary to save my life.

As the reality of their looming challenges sunk in, the most beautiful little girl I’ve ever seen walked into the room, wrapped her arms around Gary’s leg and asked him a question.

I have no idea what she asked.  Everything after “Daddy” became a fog.  As she continued her bear hug, my vision of the moment shifted as if I had on a pair of glasses that revealed his soul to me.  What I saw before me was no longer an impressively composed man in the awkward position of asking others to help share the burden of a life-saving procedure.  I now saw the father of a 5-year-old who just started kindergarten.  A father wanting to watch his little girl grow up and graduate high school.  A father wanting to walk her down the aisle someday.  I looked over at Beth and saw a mother with the same dreams for her child and her husband.

It was a sobering moment as I realized this person with whom I had shared the SCHS hallways for four years had such strength, fighting such a life battle, raising a child, and caring for a husband whose sole lifeline is a tenuous cable running to a battery pack strapped to his waist.

Ever the accountant, I quickly calculated that Beth and I graduated with about 250 people, and if each of us gave $20, they would immediately have $5,000 toward their goal.  Or if the 15,000 people living in Sevierville each gave $20, they’d have $300,000.  Better yet, if Sevier County’s population of about 100,000 gave just $10 each, they’d have a million bucks to pay for surgery and ongoing expenses, just like that!   From that perspective, raising a million dollars to help someone get a life-saving surgery doesn’t seem quite so daunting.

Maybe, like Earl and me, you have a list.  Maybe saving a man’s life is on it.  Here’s your opportunity.  If not like Earl, for good Karma, then, perhaps like me, for the privilege of being a small part of all the bear hugs this family shares in the years to come.

For more information on the Grismores and how you can volunteer or make a donation, visit http://patients.transplants.org/garygrismore, call the National Foundation for Transplants at 1-800-489-3863.

© Michael L. Collins

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