I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh.
(Ezekiel 36:26, NIV)
I have been witness to many miracles in my years as administrative director of Loma Linda University Medical Center’s heart transplant program. Those of us who spend our lives “changing hearts” have often felt that we are merely instruments under God’s direction; and that this complex process has so many components that cannot be planned for, predicted, or controlled.
In this context, I have often wondered what God has in store for some of our tiniest recipients. For instance, there is the story of Jose Marin that still delights me. Jose was born in 1989 in Los Angeles, California. He was the second child of his parents, and his birth was much anticipated. The family’s joy was short-lived, however, when Jose went into shock at his home just twelve days after his birth, when his fetal circulation ceased.
He was rushed to the emergency room, where his fatal heart disease was diagnosed. Jose’s parents were informed of the critical status of their son and faced a difficult decision: let him die, attempt palliative repairs, or opt for heart transplantation. His parents chose the transplant option, and the babe was transferred to Loma Linda University Children’s Hospital. Jose had suffered serious neurologic and renal insults, and his life was fragile as he awaited a donor.
And then, on July 4, 1989, just two weeks after his eventful birth, a 2-day-old donor from eastern Canada was identified. Our transplant team left Loma Linda at 10:00pm.and returned to Loma Linda at 8:00 the following morning to begin the re-implantation operation. All went well, and Jose was discharged from the hospital in three weeks. Exactly one month later, Jose kept a scheduled appointment in the transplants clinic. His echocardiogram showed marked deterioration that was consistent with acute rejection.
Very dramatically, he had a cardiac arrest before our eyes. A heroic resuscitation effort began. Jose’s heart function would not recover. However, as resuscitation continued, he seemed to respond to deep, painful stimulation. Then the dilemma– what to do? It just so happened that a donor, who shared Jose’s blood type and weight, became available; but that donor’s heart was intended for another infant. Nevertheless, that donor’s heart was recovered from Oklahoma and placed emergently into Jose’s chest while resuscitation continued. Fortunately, the other infant subsequently received another donor heart without incident.
There was always a concern that Jose would be neurologically impaired after such extraordinary intervention, but his recovery was uneventful. After several months at Loma Linda, the family returned home to Los Angeles.
I had occasion to speak with Jose’s mother recently; and she told me how much joy Jose, now 19 years of age, brings to their family. He is attending community college, training to become a teacher. As the miracle of Jose’s life continues to unfold, we celebrate God’s hand in our efforts to give life.
– Joyce Johnston Rusch