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Tuesday’s Tale: A Wish Unfulfilled

By Debby Rice

My dad wanted to be an advocate for organ and tissue donation after he received his heart transplant. His unfulfilled wish is what compels me to share our story – he died waiting for a second chance at life. I remember my dad, Denny Hile, as a warm, loving man who was the foundation of our family. He was one of the most positive people I knew, and was dedicated to our family. He listened, really listened when I needed him, gave great advice and was a source of strength for me.

He loved traveling and he and my mom traveled all over the world together. My dad would purchase a pin on each trip and whenever he returned home he placed that pin on a green felt hat that soon was brimming with memories of the places they had visited. I have the hat today, and on the back of it there is a pin that reads “yes you can!,” a statement that sums up the attitude my dad had during his life.

He taught me “Never say you can’t until you try” and I live by this each and every day of my life. In addition to working in the floor covering industry for many years, my dad devoted his time to his church and the community of Wooster, Ohio through his involvement in many civic groups.

Pictures from Debby's wedding and a letter from her father

When he was just 52, my dad was diagnosed with congestive heart failure/arrhythmia. I was only a teenager when doctors told us that he was “a walking time bomb” and required an immediate bypass surgery in November 1986. Fortunately, the surgery was a success and he lived a relatively normal life for just under seven years.

In 1994 my father’s heart started failing again and another triple bypass wasn’t enough to fix it. By August 1995 he was listed for a heart transplant as his health continued to decline. He had numerous hospital visits, was drained of energy, forced to retire and got to the point where daily activities became too much for him and he was confined to his recliner.

My dad remained optimistic, in spite of growing weaker. He made plans for “when” he got his heart transplant, never “if,” and looked forward to enjoying his retirement years with my mom, Margaret, and advocating for donation by sharing his story and encouraging others to register as donors. He was the model patient, doing everything doctors asked of him, and had no ailments beyond heart failure. We all remained hopeful that after a heart transplant his health would be restored and he could live his life again.

After 16 months waiting for a heart, my father got “the call” on December 31, 1996. He was life-flighted to Cleveland Clinic for the transplant and prepped for surgery before doctors learned the heart was not viable for transplant. We remained hopeful that another heart would come along but a few months later, my father’s health caught up with him. He collapsed and never returned home from the hospital.

My dad was only 62 when he died on May 1, 1997, and he had a lot to live for. He missed weddings, graduations and spending time with his growing family. He has seven grandchildren and four great-grandchildren, many of whom he never knew – including my youngest son, Cameron, who was only seven weeks old when my dad passed.

Debby at home with her dog

Holidays aren’t the same without my dad and we all feel his absence at family gatherings. Someone always says, “It’s not the same without Uncle Denny.” I knew he made a huge impact on me and I was touched to learn how he left an impression on others. After his death, childhood friends who I hadn’t seen in years wrote to tell me how much he meant to them and in September 1997 the Wayne County Heart Walk was dedicated to my dad and at that time raised the most money it ever had for heart health something he would’ve been so proud of.

In a way, his legacy will continue to impact others by portraying the need for organ and tissue donors. 18 people, just like my dad, die each day in the United States because a transplant didn’t come in time. I don’t want another family to have to experience what we did, watching a loved one decline while waiting for a transplant.

I’ve always been an organ donor, but when I signed up as a teenager I never realized how important that decision was. Today, I want to convey the power we all have to save lives by simply registering as donors. If more people sign up, more lives will be saved and fewer families will lose a father, husband, grandfather or loved one because a transplant didn’t come soon enough.

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