Have A Heart

Written by on October 7, 2010 in Health with 2 Comments


Have A Heart.  October 7, 2010:  About one year ago, a young man–a college student–was dying.  His heart was failing.  His kidney was failing.  And this was through no fault of his own.  You see, the heart that was failing was not his own.  It was, if you will, his step-heart.  This heart was donated to him when he was an infant.  This young man was born April 24, 1989 with a defective left ventricle in his heart, a condition called hypoplastic left ventricle syndrome. This meant that his left ventricle was severely underdeveloped.  His life expectancy at birth was 21 days.  He had a heart attack just before he was born.  And with it there was pain.  All things considered, he was very fortunate, though neither he nor his family knew it.  His family was referred to a pediatric cardiac surgeon who had previously performed three heart transplants on infants.  The surgeon, the hospital, and the baby’s family–and the baby–went to work.  On the 21st day–the last possible day–a compatible heart became available.  Canada had just recently joined UNOS, the United Network for Organ Sharing.  A heart was available, in Ontario, Canada.  A helicopter and a Lear Jet were dispatched to bring life to this young child who was so near death.  At midnight on May 15, 1989,  surgery began.  His was the eighth infant heart transplant in the country and the fourth in the midwest.  While he slept after the surgery, his mother played a music box for him, just as she had done for the 21 days before the transplant.  He had never opened his eyes before the surgery.  On May 16, 1989, he turned his head toward the music and he opened his eyes for the first time.  His heart, his donor’s heart in him, was beating.  He was alive!  And he lived!  Thanks to the generosity, love and kindness of a family in Canada, and the brilliance, tenacity, strength and know-how of a caring surgeon and a host of hospital staff members, and a loving and caring family, he lived!  He was always at risk of rejection, and he had to take many medications throughout his life to avoid rejection and to keep his health and strength, because anything that might compromise his fragile immune system might bring rejection.  With the help of a loving and caring family, and relatives and friends who gave generously, he grew up tall and strong and graduated from high school, and he began college.

And then, 20 years  later, and last year at this time, he was back in the hospital, his body wearing down, his heart losing strength, his kidneys failing.  Once again, medical science, and caring and devoted professionals, and the love and generosity of a donor family, came to his rescue.  On October 21, 2009, he underwent another heart transplant. Eight hours later, he had the kidney transplant.  And he lived.  And Bill Coon still lives.  Those organs saved his life.  Fourteen days from now will be the one year anniversary of his second heart transplant.  The picture of Bill above was taken just before he went in for the heart transplant surgery.  He delivered a copy of his book, Swim: A Memoir of Survival, to our house just a few days ago.  And what a story it is.  Buy it. Read it. Be inspired. Donate life.  Your life will live again.  You can get the book at www.billcoonbooks.com. To be an organ donor, go to www.donatelife.org.

“Have a Heart” was written for Bill last year while he was in the hospital awaiting donor organs, and awaiting sufficient strength to return to his body so he could survive such surgeries.

By the way, Bill chose the photograph that you see in the picture above, taken just before he went in to the operating room for his surgery.

It is too long to put here in its entirety, but you can see the rest in The Store. I am here including the last two stanzas.

Have A Heart

Your life can keep on giving
even when you’re gone.
You will go on living
as someone else lives on.
You see there are so many lives
that you can help to mend.
Be a gift. Have a heart.
Be the one to save a life:
your life will live again.
(Copyright Daniel Mark Extrom 2009-2010)

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About the Author: Husband. Father. Friend. Writer. Lawyer. Businessman. Gift maker. Poet. Lover of learning. This site is a labor of love, a mid-life crisis come to life. I love words and I love making gifts that I know people love! They please the eyes and touch the heart! (I hope!) .


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  1. Mary Cross says:

    Hello Mark,

    I just read your beautiful story about Bill Coon. God Bless him! Our family knows all to well about organ donor and it’s importance. Although, ours is the opposite of Bill’s life.

    My niece Nicole was pronounced brain dead on April 10, 2008. She had been driving down the highway, heading to work when she was rear ended by a semi-truck. There were no signs of injury, no blood or broken bones. It was a closed head injury.

    Nicole had the organ donor sticker on her drivers license. My sister and brother in law decided to honor Nicole’s wishes and kept her alive until all the surgeons, patients, and equipment were all set up. The surgeries began three days later and were completed within 24 hours. The family was given her body the next day. This was now five days after her accident.

    Nicole donated her eyes, kidney’s, lungs, pancreas, liver, heart, and skin. She saved five lives; helped another to have sight; and helped a burn victim too. She was 20 years old.

    Reading your blog regarding Bill Coon really helped me this evening. It was nice to know the results of being an organ donor.

  2. Dan says:

    Dear Mary,

    Thank you so much for a touching comment. Please accept my sincerest condolences and please convey them to Nicole’s parents. Nicole must have been a wonderful young lady from a great family. It’s a heartbreaking and tragic story, and yet, out of tragedy, there is hope and kindness and life, thanks to Nicole’s gifts, and that of her parents. Thank you for writing. I am going to pass your comment along to Bill. He is now back in college and doing well and is a spokesman for organ donation, so others can live just as he does.



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