Broken Hearts
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  • Post published:13/05/2021
  • Post last modified:13/05/2021
Bill and Alison, Martha and Brian out for dinner

Bill and Alison, Martha and Brian out for dinner

We all have been broken at one point in our lives, have we not? Broken in mind, in spirit, in heart. But you have never really seen a broken heart until you meet my friend Bill.

Bill has a broken heart, literally, a heart that doesn’t work at its full capacity on its own. It needs a little help. It’s been a long journey for Bill. And with him on this journey are his wife Alison and three boys, Garland, Liam and Miles.

It started several years ago when Bill was admitted to the hospital with chest pain. After several tests the doctors discovered that he had contracted a virus that had made his heart weak. It wasn’t good news but it wasn’t the worst news either. At least he would get better.

Or so he thought.

Over several years Bill’s condition worsened and last August he had to have major surgery to fix his broken heart. Bill now is an LVAD user. Sounds nasty, doesn’t it, like he’s some sort of Star Trek fiend who only hangs out with you if you’re an LVAD user too? LVAD is the acronym for left ventricle assist device. Bill is waiting, you see, for a new heart. While he waits for a donor, some clever person invented this machine that helps the heart pump blood through the aorta and then disperses rich oxygenated blood to the body. Ingenious, don’t you think?

LVAD Machine

LVAD Machine

While the surgery to have the pump attached to the left ventricle was anything but a walk in the park, it was well worth it. Recently, Bill spent a weekend riding his motorcycle with friends; he is back at work and is enjoying life again.

Bill is a tall man, not only in stature but also in his all-around presence. He is very proud, and having to ask anyone, even his wife, for help was difficult for him. Bill’s wife and three sons all found the journey with Bill difficult. Dark times, some would say. Having to be positive at all times was a job that the family found exhausting. Their rich sense of humor helped not only them to get through the postoperative events but it certainly helped Bill, who was so discouraged. A more than common reaction, I am sure, to having a broken heart.

But this family put on their big-boy pants, got out their Marx brothers attitudes and trudged on. They found laughter and humor in their situation and forged ahead not knowing what to expect. Alison even made the comment that after the operation Bill’s funny bone must have been affected because he became the humorist in the family rather than Alison.

An electrician who owns his own company, Bill has always been a man of the people. He knows everyone, it seems, in his community and his work is his pride and joy. Up every morning and out by at least 6:00am Bill prides himself on his work and his positive attitude toward life.

After his operation Bill was weak but managed to get up and get to work after only two weeks of postoperative care. He was never one to pity himself or anyone else for that matter; his modern-day John Wayne persona was drawn upon to help him navigate the new terrain he was on now as an LVAD recipient.

And it worked. Bill found, as time went on, that he became stronger and more able to do the things he loved such as ride his beloved motorcycle. This past summer Bill could be found at work, on the golf course or just hanging out at home with one or all of his boys or with Alison.

As I am writing this Bill’s health is once again at stake. His thyroid, a very tricky little gland at the base of the neck, is giving him issues. Bill has been taken off the transplant list because of this health issue. Another turn for the worse, it seems, yet nobody can just give up now, especially Bill. He will, I am sure, find a way to get back on that list and again forge ahead.

Another very important part of Alison’s and Bill’s life right now is their LVAD community, other transplant hopefuls waiting to hear that a heart has become available. The community is huge and spans many provinces, countries and continents. Heart disease is a worldwide problem. So the LVAD community shares information, knowledge, humor, wisdom and hope. Al and Bill have met several other recipients of the LVAD and continue to reach out to friends in that community.

It’s hard to believe, but although 90% of Canadians support organ donation, only 25% of Canadians actually register through their Medicare cards or governments. In Quebec there were 993 patients as of December 31st 2014 waiting for a transplant. It is never too late to register either. An 88-year-old man in Quebec donated his liver and a 78-year-old donated five of his organs. Organ donation has a lot of fear and mysticism behind it but it truly is a simple and wonderful way to keep on giving after you are no longer here. Your body, the shell of you, can save so many lives through organ donation. Your soul will live on and perhaps even be witness to the lives you saved.

I have known Alison and Bill my whole adult life. They are both genuine, funny, life-affirming people who love to party and laugh and enjoy life to the fullest. Their children and their families have always been an integral part of their lives. Without that support and those people in their lives this road would be a lot more difficult to navigate, but because of Bill’s rich and positive outlook and Al’s never ending quirky attitude to life they will manage somehow to get through this latest piece of news and Bill no doubt will be back on the transplant list in no time.

Thirty-odd years ago Alison and Bill were our neighbours. They had a cat named Sport. One hot summer night while we were partying up on the roof of our apartment Sport jumped off the five-storey roof. Why? Only the cat knows that but he survived. And so will Bill! 

 

Image Credit

Photos Courtesy of Martha Farley. All rights reserved.

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