Michael Gibson, Son of a heart recipient
As a child, everyone has a hero. Someone they look up to, admire, and envision being ‘just like them.’ For me, this man was my father, Roger.
My dad was the strong, silent type. He was caring, hard working, loyal, dedicated to his family. In the best of times and in the most challenging of times he was there to lead our family . It was during these tough times that I learned to admire my father the most.
My father, Roger, became a candidate for a heart transplant in 1995. Over the years he had suffered from a series of heart attacks that led to congestive heart failure. He was 59 years old. While my dad knew that he was in need of a transplant to survive, he was a little leery about it at first. It took him some time to adjust to the idea that someone had to die, in order for him to live. After much conversation as a family, he began to realize that while his fear was completely natural, this was going to be his chance to live on and to spend more precious time with his family. My dad knew that he wasn’t asking anyone to die for him, but that this was an opportunity to turn a tragedy into a blessing. Not only were we going to be able to have my dad around in the future, but the family who lost their loved one would be able to know that his or her heart would be beating on through another. I would say this is when my family first began to realize just how special donation was.
After making the decision to be listed for a transplant, my dad checked into The Ohio State University hospital to begin treatment. As a family, we did everything we could to keep in good spirits while we waited on a heart. I remember the day he got “the call” vividly. It was Aug. 31st, 1995. My mom had baked my dad’s favorite peach pie. As my dad prepared to take his first bite, a nurse walked in and said “Don’t you even think about eating that if you plan on getting a heart today.” We all knew, the day had come and at midnight on Sept. 1, my dad received his gift of a new heart.
Walking into his room a couple of days later I was so impressed. He was sitting up, talking and had such good coloring in his cheeks. Three short weeks later, he was home. As a family, we knew that getting involved in support of donation would be the best way for us to show our gratitude for my dad’s beautiful gift. My dad began volunteering with Lifeline of Ohio a couple of months after his transplant by helping with office work and even began sitting in on panels with OSU medical students to answer questions about his transplant experience.
I truly feel blessed for the 14 years I was able to share with my dad thanks to his transplant. I watched him transform from this quiet, mild mannered man in to a voice on behalf of donation. He attended health fairs, shared his story as a public speaker, worked at the Lifeline of Ohio offices and so much more. We knew it was important to get as involved as possible in support of donation. It was the best way we could try and give back all we had been given.
Along with volunteering, the next 14 years brought so much more to our family. My dad was able to stand beside my brother and me, as best man at our weddings. He was able to hold and love five more grandchildren and celebrate his 50th wedding anniversary with my mother, the love of his life.
In 2008, right after my parent’s 50th wedding anniversary, my dad began to feel ill. This was highly unusual because other than his transplant, he was in considerably good health. After some testing and antibiotics, my dad was diagnosed with Melanoma. We found out that he was pre-disposed to this due to the excessive sun exposure he endured during his time as a police officer, pre-transplant. My dad underwent chemotherapy and radiation for the cancer, although it was extremely aggressive. After a surgery to remove a good amount of the Melanoma in June 2009, dad seemed to be getting better. He was able to get around and he was doing pretty well through the rest of the summer and through the end of August. His health began to decline in October and he knew he had done all that he could do.
Although my dad’s health was going downhill quickly, we were still able to take him to Lifeline of Ohio’s Volunteer Appreciation Banquet on Nov. 5, 2009. I am so glad that my dad had this last opportunity to hug those he had worked with so closely and to see everyone once again. Since he gotten sick again, he was unable to volunteer as much as he wanted to. I am glad my dad received that additional opportunity to see his friends and I believe he knew he didn’t have much time left. Two weeks later, my dad passed away. It was Nov. 19, just one week before thanksgiving.
Since my dad’s passing, my family has stayed involved with Lifeline of Ohio. We are so grateful for all the extra time we got to spend with him and we know that he wouldn’t have had it any other way. My dad was always dedicated to his family and our well being. He lived his life with humility and dignity, and we cannot imagine celebrating such an amazing man any other way than by paying forward the gift he was given. Especially at this year’s Candlelight Vigil, it seemed fitting to honor my dad. We were all involved and that night when we all lit our candles, it was like we had dad right there with us. It just seemed right. My family and I will do all we can to honor Roger Gibson and his second chance. We will make sure that he shines on for years to come.
If you or someone you know is unsure about registering as a donor, consider this. Think of one person in your life you have lost. What would you have done to have more time with them? Now imagine someone you love who is still here with you. Could you imagine what it would be like if they were in need of a life-saving transplant? Just think about that opportunity for extra time together. When someone makes the decision to register, they are saying yes to life. Someone’s selfless act gave me my extra time with my father and for that, I will be forever grateful.