By Ronni (Spratt) Richards
In 1992, Jim and I danced at our wedding celebration to our chosen song, “Hot Diggity Dog Ziggity Boom What You Do To Me.” As we waltzed our way into a life together, we couldn’t have comprehended that we would have only three short years to celebrate our love as Mr. And Mrs. Jim Spratt. Jim would die of heart disease May 7, 1995 while awaiting a heart transplant.
When we met in 1990, Jim was in good health. Nine years before we met, he had been diagnosed with atrial fibrulation. Although he had been taking medication to regulate his heart rhythm, he had remained physically active. He jogged, played racquetball, and spent time on the tennis courts. Jim was a supportive, loving father to his 3 children James, Jacquie, and Jenny following his wife and their mother’s death from cancer. Our courtship was not shadowed by health concerns.
A year and a half after our marriage, Jim’s health started to gradually decline. He was diagnosed with ventricular tachycardia requiring more medications to regulate arrythmia of his heart.
Jim continued to live each day as completely as possible. He loved to spend time with his family, to cook, to travel, and to read. Yet as the days passed, our lives became more and more impacted by Jim’s illness.
Time was becoming more of a commodity. He was beginning to tire easily. It took him longer to shower and dress and to just walking from the parking garage to his office was becoming a chore. Jim was forced to cut back to part-time and then to go on full disability.
Daily living was requiring too much effort for Jim’s heart to keep up. It was very hard to realize that his health was so bad that he could no longer work, but Jim adjusted to his circumstances without depression or complaint.
As time continued to pass, more of my life began to revolve around Jim’s illness. I accompanied him to doctor’s appointments, kept notes regarding medications, and made charts about fluid input and output. I called daily from work and he was usually reading or doing simple chores. He always reported being “fine,” so the day I called and he said calmly, “I’m not doing very well,” created instant panic.
He said a vein had burst in his leg and that he was standing in a pool of blood. I left school immediately and went home to transport him to the hospital. The vein had burst due to his high venous pressure; Jim’s heart was wearing out.
Jim’s condition continued to worsen. Another trip to the hospital brought a pessimistic assessment of Jim’s overall condition. My fear deepened as I asked about the possibility of a heart transplant and referral to Cleveland Clinic.
Jim was evaluated for a transplant and we felt hope return when we were informed he had made the transplant waiting list. What we didn’t realize at the time was that there are not enough organs available and that every single day people are dying because an organ wasn’t available.
Although we understood the seriousness of Jim’s condition, we held onto the hope that a heart large enough for Jim’s 6’3″ 250 pound body size would soon become available. As 1995 began we were optimistic that this would be the year that would prove to be the life-giving year for Jim.
He was released from the hospital early in January and we resumed our lives while waiting for that important phone call. To help Jim, we had an oxygen tank beside our bed, and Jim’s portable tank accompanied us on errands. I was wearing a beeper at all times, so the hospital could reach us when another family made the decision and said “yes” to donation giving my husband his life back.
During the spring, Jim was admitted to a local hospital with excessive swelling and he was soon flown by a Lifeflight helicopter to Cleveland Clinic because he now had 80-90 pounds of excess fluid. Jim’s transplant surgeon drained the fluid and explained to me that Jim’s heart wasn’t keeping up and that it was impacting the rest of his body.
They now needed to implant a mechanical heart in Jim’s chest because he cardiomyopathy was so severe that organ damage would soon be irreversible. Surgery to implant a Left Ventricular Assist Device (L-VAD) could possibly build Jim’s stamina and preclude further damage to his liver and kidneys while we continued to wait for an organ match. Without the L-VAD, there was little hope for Jim.
The surgery to place the L-VAD was completed on April 10th. Despite reports of “great surgery… Jim did well,” Jim never made it off the respirator. He developed a staph infection and was taken off the transplant waiting list. Jim died on May 7, 1995.
Jim is no longer here, but my love for him and for the life we shared will always be present.
My husband was a list-maker. Following his death, I found a list of quotes from various male mentors. One that had no author’s name attached continues to offer me direction and comfort:
“The most important job you will ever have is the one you have now.”
I believe my job now is to help educate others concerning the importance of organ and tissue donation. While it will not bring Jim back, I know that it can help the thousands of others like him who are hoping for a second chance and the opportunity that they will be able to enjoy life with their families.