New heart gives Veto Lake woman enriched life

MICHAEL KELLY The Marietta Times At their home near Veto Lake, Linda and Garry Marks look over the four-wheeler racing ATV that she has covered with messages of gratitude for the heart transplant that saved her life five years ago. Transplant data ¯Percentage of Washington County residents who are registered organ donors: 58.1. ¯Number of Ohioans on organ transplant waiting list: More than 2,900. ¯Number of Ohioans who donated organs at their death in 2017: 412, contributing 1,274 organs. ¯Average frequency at which Ohioans die awaiting organ donations: Once every 40 hours. ¯Information on becoming an organ donor: lifelineofohio.org Source: Lifeline of Ohio.

By Michael Kelly

The Marietta Times

mkelly@mariettatimes.com

Life has not only been longer for Linda Marks, it’s also been richer.

Threatened with death from heart disease five years ago, the 61-year-old Washington County resident has been given the second chance many yearn for, seeing her three grandchildren grow, becoming even closer to her husband of 41 years, Garry, enjoying the family’s riverside recreational property near Beverly, racing in the souped-up ATV contests her family cherishes, and meeting a rewarding range of people who have shared similar experiences and emotions through the wonder of life-lengthening organ transplants.

Sitting at a table in the garage of her home near Veto Lake near sunset last week with Garry, she reflected on the rewards of the five years since she received a heart transplant.

“I’ve regained my life,” she said. “I’ve seen that life itself is precious, just being able to get up in the morning and breathe.”

When she suffered a stroke in 2012 – an event that required her to relearn basic skills such as walking and speech – a standard diagnostic imaging scan revealed that her heart was massively enlarged. After medication failed to relieve the condition, she was placed on the heart transplant registry with only a few months to live.

A donor was found in less than a month.

Garry recalls the morning they got the call from the Ohio State University hospital – and nearly missed it.

The couple had rearranged some bedroom furniture but forgotten to put the phone back in its usual place in easy reach of the bed, just in case the transplant unit in Columbus called with good news. Garry said he got up that early August morning of 2013, and discovered when he checked the messages that the hospital had called several hours before to let them know the heart was available and waiting. They sped off to Columbus.

Garry recalls that they were expecting a frenetic rush to the operating room but found the medical staff surprisingly relaxed. About 24 hours later Linda was in recovery, where she spent three weeks.

“I was up walking laps around the hospital floor the first week,” she said.

She got not only an extended life but a better one.

Linda said she had experienced poor health since childhood, with breathing problems attributed to asthma but that were actually symptoms of a defective heart. Her new heart, which they were told came from a young man in his 20s but otherwise not identified, gave her new vitality.

“The main thing is, I no longer struggle to breathe,” she said.

The garage at the Veto house is crowded with half a dozen modified ATVs that the family hauls around to county fairs and other events for competition racing. One machine, “The Heartland Express” is covered with signs and messages of gratitude for her new heart, one reading “In honor of a donor, our heart beats on.”

Her husband gets credit for standing by her through the process.

“Through all this, Garry has been by my side, he’s seen me at my worst and been here to celebrate my best,” she said. Her neighbors at Veto Lake have been helpful, she said, and the transplant experience has introduced the family to people they otherwise would probably never have met.

“We’ve gotten to go places and meet wonderful people,” Garry said. “There are many transplant people in this area we’ve met through the Gift of Life (organization). It was amazing, the Cabin Fever Party (an annual event for transplant recipients in the Mid-Ohio Valley) just keeps growing. It’s getting close to 500 people.”

The couple speaks to groups and schools – Linda is a retired Warren Local School district bus driver — about their experience.

“We’ve become very, very passionate about telling people about organ donation,” Linda said.

One of the people she contacted, unexpectedly, was Bruce Jones in Pittsburgh, Pa.

Jones, an operations worker for the Pittsburgh public school system, was doing some work in Cupples Stadium at the city’s south end when he noticed a balloon wobble down and land on the other side of the field, which is used for football games by all the city’s high schools.

Linda Marks has celebrated the anniversary of her heart transplant, Aug. 7, every year since by releasing balloons, some of which carry a message in a closed envelope asking the finder to call her. Although she’s been contacted through the years by several people who found the balloons, none had been as far distant as Jones. Cupples Stadium is more than 150 miles from where she sent the balloon aloft.

Jones opened the envelope and called the number inside. Linda was vacationing with the family at Put-In Bay on Lake Erie when she got the call.

“She was really thrilled to hear from me,” Jones said.

He said the balloon might have followed winds flowing up the Ohio River to Pittsburgh and then along the Monongahela River for a short distance before landing in the stadium, which isn’t far from the river.

It was another among the unique daily experiences enabled by a new heart.

“We have a good time,” she said. “I love our river property, I love fishing and the water. We just got new jet skis. That’s my next project.”

For information on transplants and organ donation, see the Lifeline of Ohio website at lifelineofohio.org.

Transplant data

¯Percentage of Washington County residents who are registered organ donors: 58.1.

¯Number of Ohioans on organ transplant waiting list: More than 2,900.

¯Number of Ohioans who donated organs at their death in 2017: 412, contributing 1,274 organs.

¯Average frequency at which Ohioans die awaiting organ donations: Once every 40 hours.

¯Information on becoming an organ donor: lifelineofohio.org

Source: Lifeline of Ohio.

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