A monthly story of personal strength and courage. This month's story:
A Story Of Faith, Love, And Inspiration
As Jeff Piper drew back the eyelids of his comatose wife, and tilted her head so she was facing me, he placed her hand on my chest so she could feel my heart. He whispered to his wife that this was her son Nick's heart beat. At that moment, tears welled up in her eyes and her heart rate went from 85 BPM to 117 BPM.
You see, the last time Lorna Piper had felt the beating heart of her son Nick was about 4:00 AM in the morning on June 21st, 1998. It was then they whisked her oldest son to the operating room to begin the organ donation process. It was shortly after that when I was awoken in my room at University Hospital in Cincinnati and told that Dr. Gary Ott, Transplant Surgeon, was "in the air" and a donor for me had been found after over three months living at the hospital. It was Fathers Day.
Nick Piper was barely sixteen when his life was tragically taken short when the driver of a pick-up truck did not see Nick approaching on his motorcycle, and made a left turn into Nick's path. Nick was AirFlighted to Miami Valley Hospital in Dayton from Two Lock Road in rural New Bremen Ohio. He was just a mile or so from home.
The day had started with Nick and his dad taking a ride on their motorcycles to run some errands before Nick's baseball game that afternoon. Jeff recalled that it was a beautiful sunny, summer day; a great day for a ride. Living in a rural community in west central Ohio, the Piper boys grew up riding dirt bikes and four wheelers on their farm, in fact if you didn't ride a moped to school you couldn't get home after extra-curricular activities. Nick had worn out one moped before he turned sixteen logging over 6,000 miles between school and their farm. By the time he received his drivers license, he was already an accomplished rider. As the events would unfold, the New Bremen High baseball team was loosing badly, and the ten-run-rule was invoked after five innings. Eager to get home to begin preparation for a surprise birthday party that evening, Nick asked if he could take off while Jeff stayed back to button-up things at the ball field. Nick took off waving good-bye to his dad and neighbors along the way as he made his way back home. The rest is history.
This is a story of love, faith, strength, and pure unselflessness. This is the story of a family filled with love, for their God and each other. And for people whom they had never met, and their decision to honor his wishes, and are alive today because of their son's wish to be an organ donor.
I received a call from Jeff on Tuesday evening telling me that his wife was loosing her battle with Leukemia, and then a stroke to the brain stem (which is what eventually ended her life). They had been at the Cleveland Clinic since December, as their twenty-year-old twin sons Ryan and Doug were keeping things together back in New Bremen. She had been transplanted with stem cells from umbilical cord blood that had been flown in all the way from Italy. She was beating the Leukemia.
After that phone call, I knew what my plans were going to be for the next two days. It was back in December that I had finally found out who my heart donor was. I attempted to contact the Piper's when I found out about Lorna's fight with Leukemia, and decided that if the time was ever going to be right to meet the my donor family, the initial contact would have to come from them. One evening, I was wondering how Lorna was doing so I called the Medical ICU at the Cleveland Clinic. I was asked my name and I told the nurse who answered. With confidentiality being paramount I was told that Lorna was in the unit and she was allowed visitors. I was also told that she would pass on a message to Jeff, but I declined to leave one.
The nurse told the Piper's that a Tom Falk had called and asked about Lorna. The name rang a bell to them, but could not immediately make the connection. It finally occurred to them who I was, as we had corresponded several times through Life Center Donor Network on just a first name basis.
Last week, when things turned for the worst, Lorna could only communicate with her eyes by; open eyes meaning no, and closed eyes meaning yes. Jeff asked his wife if he should call me, and she closed her eyes. He knew she would be able to pass fulfilled if she could just feel the heart beat of Nick again.
By the time I arrived at the Clinic on Wednesday afternoon, she had slipped into a coma and her vital signs were waning. There had not been any eye movements for several hours. But for that one moment, Lorna Piper knew that she had all three of her sons with her. Her whole family was with her in that room.
I stayed with Jeff until 9:00 PM as he conferred with the Doctors to set Lorna's wishes into motion to suspend life support. The twins said their goodbyes to their mom, and headed home to get the house in order, and would be back in the morning when the time of 2:00 PM had been established for the respirator to be disconnected. Jeff called key members of the family and made them aware of the arrangements.
Aware that it was highly possible that she would not make it through the night, he wanted to stay awhile with her alone He held her hand and prayed, and before he left for the evening put Lorna's favorite CD of hymns on and set the player to repeat all night.
At 5:00 AM he received a call from the unit that it was time, and at 7:00 AM 46 year-old Lorna Piper quietly passed as her favorite hymn Amazing Grace played in the background.
I told Jeff that I would have to write this story, but would only do so with his permission. My life was forever changed on Fathers Day in 1998 when the Piper family gave of their family, life…. life that would save my life, and probably seven or eight others. My life was forever changed again by this wonderful family on that Wednesday night when I could give Lorna Piper one more chance to feel the beating heart of her son Nick.
I hope and pray that this story can, in some way, can inspire you. For this IS a story of love, of faith, and of strength. It is the story of one amazing family.
Written and Submitted By: Tom Falk (Heart Transplant Recipient)
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