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PERSONAL STORIES

A monthly story of personal strength and courage. This month's story:

A SECOND CHANCE AT LIFE


The Story of Charles Eaton

  A man that rarely smoked, rarely drank and had normal cholesterol, had planned to live a normal life. He married and just recently celebrated his 51st wedding anniversary. He has seen 2 of his five grandchildren graduate from high school and is his grandson's biggest fan when it comes to football games. It seems that there is not a worry in the world for such a lucky man. Lucky may be the word to describe him, but he is not worry-free. This man is a resident of Ft. Thomas and his story has touched the hearts of everyone in his audience. His name is Charles Eaton, and he just recently received a heart transplant. It is obvious he is in love with life. Mr. Eaton has had a history of heart troubles his battle has been a long one, but he can finally wake up in the morning and not have to worry if his heart will give him any trouble. It is an anonymous 37-year-old to which he owes his life.

  Mr. Eaton's problems began in 1987 when he had a major heart attack and lost 2/3 of the functioning that his heart used to do. He underwent balloon surgery that helped to get his arteries to open back up, but his troubles did not end. With out the use of 2/3 of his heart a lot of his normal activities became a struggle for him. It was very difficult to understand where this heart attack came from. Mr. Eaton had always been in good shape. He was never over weight and never indulged in junk food. He rarely smoked when he was younger and his cholesterol was normal. It was a mystery that a man in such good shape would lose 2/3 of such a valuable and important organ. In the end it all came down to his cholesterol. It wasn't that it was too high it was that he had too little of the good cholesterol. It wasn't just his cholesterol. His random cigarettes cause a plaque build up in his arteries causing his arteries to stick together which is why the balloon surgery was necessary.

  However, he got back to some of his normal routines and went back to work and living his life as best as he could.

  In 1991, difficulties came back, he underwent open-heart surgery and had a double bypass. Two years later his doctors told him he had heart failure and gave him the option of being part of an experiment for a new drug. He agreed to be a part of the experiment and his heart conditions improved with the help of medications from Japan. However, the experiment only last for 5 years and in 1998 he could no longer use the drugs, they were no longer offered to him. Mr. Eaton never gave up hope. Out of the 200 individuals involved in the experiment he outlived 195 of them. He was one of the five that was still alive at the end of the 5 years partly because he took the drugs seriously. He followed the doctor's orders to eat healthy and not indulge in unhealthy habits. He figured if he had to fight for life he could fight any small obstacles that stood in his way. However, the drug was no longer offered and Mr. Eaton's case was getting worse.

  In 1999 he was told he needed a new heart. In September of 1999 his name went on the list as a recipient for a new heart. It wasn't until May 3, 2000; that he was told there was a heart ready for his taking. While he was on the waiting list he was offered a total of five hearts. It was heart number 5 that ended up being the only one that was acceptable.

  The wait brought its own frustrations. A couple months into the wait he was told by hospital personnel that because of his age we was no longer eligible for a transplant. The cut off age was 65 and at the time he was 69. He called his doctors and told them the condition and that he would no longer need their help with a transplant. It was four days later that the hospital called back and set up a meeting with Mr. Eaton and his wife. During the meeting the hospital told him that he was going back on the list because his condition was not his fault. None of Mr. Eaton's heart problems were a result from his actions and because of this he was going to receive a heart.

  It was soon after this meeting that Mr. Eaton was offered his first heart. The first heart that he was offered was said to be bruised and doctors will not put a bruised heart into a person. The second heart was tested and doctors found that the heart was positive for the AIDS virus. Mr. Eaton never gave up hope he had faith in upcoming hearts. The third heart that was offered to him seemed to be ready for the taking. However, it was positive for hepatitis. He remained the most optimistic heart patient in the ward. He wanted to live and it kept him alive. His fourth heart was offered to him and they were optimistic about this one they went ahead with the pre-op procedures. The doctors however once again had bad news. Due to the deterioration of the patient that was donating the heart, the patient's organs were no longer of use and once again Mr. Eaton was left waiting. It wasn't until May 3rd that Mr. Eaton finally got a heart. The heart was flown from Illinois and was ready for Mr. Eaton's doctors told his family that two and half-hours into the operation the new heart was beating inside Mr. Eaton's body. The operation was a success.

  After speaking with Mr. Eaton there is a whole new perception of people in this world. Mr. Eaton loves life and doesn't take anything for granted. He continues to go to the hospital not only for a work out on every Monday, Wednesday and Friday but also to keep in touch with the people that kept him going for so long. He is amazed at the care and dedication the nurses put into their jobs. He said, "The nurses were absolute angels." The nurses did everything for him. One nurse made him breakfast every morning after his surgery; she would bring food from her house to prepare him a good breakfast. They helped with everything; they saved his room for him until after surgery when he would return back to their floor. They helped hang all of the 500 cards he received all over his walls. He said, "There is no better feeling then getting cards in the mail and having flowers, it is such a good feeling to have people constantly thinking and praying for you." When Mr. Eaton left the hospital on June 2, 2000 the nurses cried.

  Mr. Eaton said the wait and the struggles with his heart were harder on his family then they were on him. He began to accept that things may not work out but he kept his hope, and he believes his hope kept him alive. The drive to the hospital everyday began to tear at the family; the hopeful hearts and then the bad news following each heart broke his family's heart even more. His grandson Kyle James, junior, said, "The wait was very stressful on the whole family. I was often nervous and scared about the outcome of the operation. Even after the operation there was a lot of stress because he had other complications." Kyle is very relieved that everything turned out as good it did. He says, "I have a lot of respect for the donating family even though I don't know them I would like to thank them." Kyle is now a proud organ donor. The younger grandchildren often did not understand what was going on. Mr. Eaton said recently when he was sitting with his youngest grandson in the car waiting for his granddaughter after school that his grandson brought up the battle Mr. Eaton was fighting for a heart. His grandson, Bradley Rouse, asked him if he remembered when he was really sick and Mr. Eaton told his grandson that he remembered when he was sick and asked Bradley if he thought grandpa was going to die and Bradley said he thought he was going to. Mr. Eaton told him that he didn't have plans on dying because he had hopes of seeing his grandchildren grow up. He said he had seen two of his granddaughters grow into beautiful women and he had plans to watch Bradley grow into a young man. His hope kept him going and said, "When you don't plan on living you can plan on dying. You have to have a will to survive."

  Mr. Eaton now enjoys picking his grandchildren up from school and playing games with them. He enjoys going to Highland's football games and watching his grandchildren during school functions. He is a family man he loves watching them grow up and loves to visit family out of town. Mr. Eaton not only loves to visit his family but he also likes to visit other patients at the hospital and talk to people. He often goes back to the hospital and talk to his nurses and they love to see how well he is doing. Mr. Eaton is a very loving man and he shows his love to more people than just his family. Julie Griffith, senior, said, "Charles is one of the most loving people I know and have ever known, and I'm sure anyone that has ever met him or talked to him would say the same thing. He is a great man with very high spirits who pulled himself through a very critical situation. I am very grateful for his recovery, as is everyone else. It's so nice to see him out and about again, enjoying life and making the most of it."

  Mr. Eaton has had his new heart since May of 2000 and he recently has made the decision to get in touch with the donor family. In order to get in touch with them he has to write a letter. He does not know any information about the donor family. He only knows that the donor was 37 years old. He does not know whether it was a woman or man if they had children or a spouse. He is very sorry that it was their loss that brought him life. He decided to write a letter and he agreed to share his thoughts.

Dear Donor Family,

My name is Charles, and I would like to express to you my deep appreciation for the gift of life that your family has given me. I am retired from my job but my family keeps me very occupied. I am a husband and a father of two children and I have been blessed with five amazing grandchildren. For the first time in years I have enough energy to play games with my grandchildren and pick them up from school. I am strong enough to take trips out of town to visit my family and friends and go and visit with patients at the hospital and my old nurses. I also am able to work out regularly at the hospital since the transplant and the return of my energy. I live in Kentucky and I just recently celebrated a birthday and a wedding anniversary. Your gift was a blessing to my family and me and I am so incredibly thankful, however I am very sorry that it was your loss. For years before my transplant I had many complications with my heart, after trying many medications to help with my heart failure and a couple surgeries my name went on the list for a transplant in September of 1999. Due to my worsening conditions I entered the hospital in January of 2000. My family was continuously visiting me in the hospital, the trips started to become very difficult for all of us to handle, but their prayers and company kept me going and hopeful. The nurses were absolute angels and helped to make me feel as comfortable as possible as my conditions worsened. I continue to visit them and keep in touch with them. I have been so blessed and cannot do or say enough to express my gratitude to your family. I am so very thankful and would very much like to meet the family and I hope you would be willing to do so.

Sincerely,

  Mr. Eaton hopes to eventually meet the family that donated their loved one heart. He owes very much to their family and is very thankful for everything they have done for him and all of the opportunities the new heart has given him.

  Mr. Eaton encourages everyone to be a part of a donor program. If you have the option of being an organ donor he thinks very highly of it. His organ donation was organized by LifeCenter which is a nonprofit organization selected by the federal government to manage all organ donations that take place in the Greater Cincinnati area, and also covering areas in Southern Ohio, Southeastern Indiana and Northern Kentucky. All of the correspondences are completely anonymous and the identities are kept confidential. In order to keep things confidential Mr. Eaton has to send his letter first to LifeCenter and then the organization will send it to the family. Once the family gets the letter and if they decide to meet Mr. Eaton then LifeCenter will allow for the identities to be revealed. Mr. Eaton hopes to meet with his donor family and thank them in person. He appreciates every single day that he has had with his family and has a true love for life.



This letter and poem was written by Molly, to her grandfather, Charles Eaton who was on the local waiting list for a heart transplant.

Grandpa; I found this poem on the internet and thought that before I go to bed tonight I would share it with you....

A Poem for You:

If I knew that it would be the last time that I would fall asleep, I would tuck you in more tightly and pray the Lord, your soul to keep.
If I knew that it would be the last time that I see you walk out the door, I would give you a hug and kiss you and call you back for one more.
If I knew it would be the last time I would hear your voice lifted up in praise
I would videotape each action and word, so I could play them back day after day.
For surely there's always tomorrow to make up for an oversight, and we always get a second chance to make everything right.
There will always be another day to say our "I love you's"
And certainly there's another chance to say our "anything I can do's?"
But just in case I might be wrong and today is all I get, I'd like to say how much I love you and hope we never forget...
Tomorrow is not promised to anyone, young or old alike,
And today may be the last chance you get to hold your loved ones tight. So if your waiting for tomorrow, why not do it today?
For if tomorrow never comes, you'll surely regret the day,
That you didn't take the extra time for a smile, a hug, or a kiss and you were too bust to grant someone, what turned out to be their one last wish.
So hold your loved ones close today, and whisper in their ear,
That you'll always hold them dear.

Take time to say, "I'm sorry," "Please forgive me," "thank you,"
Or "it's okay." Okay."
And if tomorrow never comes, you'll have no regrets about today.
Grandpa: I LOVE YOU, with all of my heart and soul!!
If there is anyone that is guilty of this very thing it would definitely be me. I always assume that the people that I love and care about just know that I love them. Did you ever know that you are honestly one of my greatest heroes?, because you are!! I look up to you in sooo many different ways and not once in my life have you ever fallen short of this mystical light that has been placed around you. Grandpa, you are the quintessence of love and infallible spirit, and because of these two things, I know that you are going to get your heart and live many long years from now. I'm not going to be the one to tell my children how wonderful their great-grandfather was, because I could never do you justice, you'll have to do that one on your own.
Never give up on your heart and life, please... you have too much to offer.
I love you,
Molly

** Charles Eaton received a heart transplant on 5/3/00. Because of the generosity of a donor family, he leads a very productive and meaningful life. His favorite times are those spent with his grandchildren. He has just recently sent a letter of heartfelt gratitude to his donor family and is anxiously awaiting a response.









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