Giving Life (KELO Land)
Published: April 17, 2011, 10:00 PM
ABERDEEN, SD - For many, the highlight of April might be the snow leaving for the season. But for others, it's very special because April is National Donate Life Month.
Dr. Larry and his wife Kelly of Aberdeen hope their story of life inspires others to join in.
"I got married late April and decided with my wife we'd just live out that time and that was going to be it. And then to hear that you only have two months, I was devastated," Larry said.
That was in 2008 when, in his mid-50s, Larry suffered a severe heart attack. He survived but it led to serious complications. He went to the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota.
"That's when they ran a battery of tests, found out that I was in stage IV heart failure," Larry said.
He received a pump for his heart to keep him alive while he sat on a list waiting for a heart donor. His wife Kelly describes the time as a roller coaster of emotions.
"It's an awkward list to be on,” Kelly said. “People would say ‘we'll pray for a heart’ and we'd say ‘we don't pray for a heart because somebody needs to die for a heart to be available.’"
From hospital visits to hospital stays, that emotional wait continued more than 200 days for the couple, until May 2009 when they got a call. There was a heart.
"I told Larry and he broke down. We prayed for the donor's family, knowing that somebody is suffering a tragedy," Kelly said.
"They called me about 6:00 in the morning and by 8:00 that morning we were out at Aberdeen Flying Service. By 10:00 we were back at Rochester and by noon I was in the operating room," Larry said.
He survived that procedure too. But that didn't mean things were easy thereafter. There was still a lot of physical recovery ahead and emotional too.
He received his heart from a 20-year-old college student named Austin who died in a motorcycle accident in Minnesota.
"I was questioning why, you know. He had just finished his sophomore year of college, a young man had just started life and why I got to live and he didn't," Larry said.
But some of those feelings started to change after the Alexanders were able to meet with the young man's family who lives in Tennessee.
"They were all out on the front lawn and they just greeted me with open arms and it was just an emotional time," Alexander said.
They each took turns listening to the heart beating in Alexander's chest. Shimon’s mom explained that the 20-year-old wanted to be a donor and was vocal in encouraging others to do the same.
"She was so eloquent when she said to my husband, ‘what happened to Austin was the worst thing possible. My son died in a freak accident but that has nothing to do with you getting his heart,’" Kelly said.
ERICH: Does it almost feel like they're family now?
Larry: They are family; they are family.
He once faced a couple months left to live. It's now been a couple years.
"I want to honor him and encourage people to donate life, to be organ and tissue donors because you save someone's life. You may never know but the ones who are back here who get the organs and tissues, we know and we appreciate it," Larry said.
Larry is still recovering from the transplant and taking several medications so his body doesn't reject the heart.