God Bless you.
Joyce, my wife of 42 years, and I have just gotten back from our summer vacation.
Please, God, in Jesus' name I pray, don't let this be our last vacation together.
We had planned this vacation early last year, when we agreed that Joyce would retire at the end of July and that, if health and other circumstances permitted, I would retire at the end of the year.
My brain tumor, prostate cancer and end-staged congestive heart failure, for which the Mayo Clinic placed me on the heart transplant list last Nov. 5, placed fearful uncertainty on my being able to vacation with Joyce.
She can vacation all she wants now because she retired at the end of July. I couldn't because I was still working. And part of our vacation would have to be at our expense because my previous four weeks of vacation had been cut in half. Any extra vacations days would be without pay.
Then came my life-threatening 30-day hospital stay, after I had suffered a cardio-genic attack, a deadly member of the "heart attack" family. I was placed on life support twice and each time my family was called to my bedside to possibly watch me breathe my last breath.
"Is it alright to cry now?" my nine-year-old grandson, Timothy James Chapman, asked.
"You can cry if you feel like it," his mother, Nicole Chapman, said. "But what grandpa needs most of all is for us to pray for him and ask God to bring him through."
On Jan. 29, I underwent a life-saving implantation of a heart pump (Heartmate II, Left Ventricular Assist Device) at the University of Chicago Medical Center. Afterward, I was so weak I could not sit up in bed by myself. So I obviously could not stand or walk, either. I had to learn to do those all over again.
On Feb. 10, I was released from the hospital to come home as the chief recipient of answered prayers. Prayers that had been offered up to God by myself, my family and prayer partners like you.
Since then, I've been on the mend and were cleared to resume work on April 5. The company has been very helpful and understanding in not assigning me too much too soon. Some things, I still can't do too well.
* I can't climb the ramps at Wrigley Field without having to stop as rest at intervals.
* The same applies for the steep steps at Toyota Park.
* I can't stand too long for interviews before a back and legs start giving out.
* I can't run to post-game interviews as part of night-time deadline assignments.
* I can't go out on a news assignment without taking spar batteries for my heart pump, leaving extra early, taking pain pills to enable me to walk and stand long enough for interviews and always making sure I am near a rest room or a urinal.
I firmly believe that I am the only newspaper reporter handicapped in this way. But I'm still functional and my doctors agree that continuing to work is good for me mentally, physically and emotionally.
During my 45 years as a professional reporter, I have worked with reporters struggling with assorted physical handicaps. this is still the case. Some are blind. Some are paralyzed from the waist down. Some hobble around on crutches with a foot or leg in a cast. Some are in wheelchairs pushed by a caregiver. Some have battled terminal cancer to the very end until they could no longer work. Some are outfitted with pacemakers and defibrillators, artificial hips and artificial knees. Yet, they courageously go about their work as best they can and some perform better than others who have no handicap.
So I resumed preaching in Christian churches and working for the Sun-Times on April 5. For my first out-of-town assignments, I drove myself there, packed my $500,000 worth of machines that keep my heart pumping, and reassembled them in the hotels. When it was time to go out on assignment, I'd put in freshly charged batteries that would help my heart continue pumping for at least 12 hours before they need to be changed.
When Joyce and I left for vacation, I flew for the first time since being implanted with a heart pump. Because of my Premier status and an abundance of frequent flier points with United, we were about to fly first class, board the plane first, carry my heart equipment in roller luggage and store them in the overhead bends.
Because one bag weighs 25 pounds, I had to have help lifting it for the first time. Thereafter, I managed to store and remove them myself by sliding them out toward me. We went to Orlando and spent most of our time in the hotels except for when we went to a movie, went shopping or went to a restaurant.
Last year, we also went to Orlando and did Disney World with both of us riding in their motorized wheelchairs. My wife frequently crashed into me with her cart because, well, she was a bad driver.
I wasn't the first LVAD patient to fly. According to Dr. Valluvan Jeevanandam, UCMC heart surgeon, who operated on me, and his assistant, Tracy Valeroso, other LVAD patients have been flying, too. One of Dr. V-J's recent LVAD implant patients flies regularly from Kuwait to Chicago for her heart care.
This information should be useful to those of you cogestive heart failure patients who may have to get a heart pump before you get a new heart. You can still work. You can still love. You can still play and you can still travel so long as you make sure you pack enough batteries to deal with an travel delays.
Yes, I was worried by serious problems other than my health during my vacaton. I've learned to pace myself and take my medicines in a manner to minimize painful side effects. There are serious pension issues yet to be resolved and that's tension, stress and anguish and anger I don't need.
But I'm blessed to be alive and as functional as I am. And it's largely, if not mostly, because of prayer. Thank you all for continuing to pray for me.
God bless you.