Heart,soul... and a little prayer
08/18/2017 10:46 am ET
It was late in the afternoon in April 2016 when I had a Skype call with Dave Johnson. I had known Dave for over 10 years. We met through circumstances that were a bit unusual. A woman, who was sharing a home with Dave and his wife, and was also diagnosed with hypertrophic cardiomyopathy, knew that he was struggling with his HCM diagnosis, which was new at the time. Her family had been in contact with the HCMA for many years, so she suggested he call for some guidance. His case was unique and complex, and it was clear early on that he would likely need a heart transplant at some point. I recommended he seek specialist opinion, so he traveled from Arkansas to Boston, eventually moving to the northeast for better access to healthcare.
In August of 2015, while waiting for a heart transplant, his health took a significant turn. He was offered to be placed on a total artificial heart, which is still very new, very risky, and very scary. He had the device implanted and was doing quite well, but it was only a bridge to transplant. He had been hospitalized for most of the time between August 2015 and the spring of 2016. Being a father with two small children at home, his time in the hospital was really becoming unbearable. During the Skype call, his frustration was clear; he was at the end of his rope, and I tried to cheer him up and encourage him to hang on just a little bit longer-that his new heart was just around the corner. The truth is I had no idea when, or if that heart would come, but positive energy has power, so I stayed positive for my friend. When I got off Skype, I sat at my desk and became very emotional. I felt so badly that there was nothing left for me to do.No doctors or administrators in a medical center to beg for help, no insurance company to go to battle with. We were simply waiting for that perfect donor to be available to give Dave another chance at life with his family.
For a few weeks that spring, as I drove home from work and past the Assumption College and Morris Catholic High School, I noticed a small woman in a blue habit walking very peacefully in prayer. There was something about the woman that always caught my attention. I had seen her maybe 10 times. On this day when I left my office, emotionally drained and with no more resources to call upon to assist my clients and my friend Dave, I wondered if she would be walking. As I passed, I saw her and I thought I should stop and ask her to pray for Dave. I am not a religious person- my grandmother and father were Catholic, my mother was Lutheran, I was raised a Lutheran, then married a Jewish man. I am not affiliated with any organized religion. I am, however, a very spiritual person. I turned my car around and drove next to this tiny figure in a baby blue habit and said “Excuse me, Sister. May I ask you a question?” She stopped and looked a little startled. I smiled at her and got out of my car. I admit I probably sounded a little bit crazy. I said “Sister, my friend is suffering. He currently has a mechanical heart he needs a new one desperately. Would you please pray for my friend, because I think you have a better connection to the Big Guy than I do.”. When she spoke, I realized she was not a native English speaker, but I could not place her accent. I asked where she was from and she said Burundi Africa. She asked me to write his name down, and I did, then I thanked her and went home. I told my husband what I had done, but I did not mention it to anybody else because it sounded a little bit crazy.
A few weeks later, I was invited to attend a gala run by the Morristown Medical Center. We were asked to represent the patients served by fundraising activities that supported their hypertrophic cardiomyopathy program and other programs. On my way to the event, I received word that a heart had been found for Dave. He was on his way to the operating room, and the surgery would be happening within a few hours! I was so excited for him, and was on my way to a lovely evening; I was in a great mood. While at the event, the Emcee was calling upon the program’s patients who were helped by these fundraising activities. During the event, I noticed quite a few nuns, but I did not think much of it until I heard an announcement. The nuns from Assumption College encountered dietary issues and were helped through a cooking program run by the hospital. The nuns came from as far away as Burundi Africa who were not used to American foods ”. I stopped in my tracks and looked into the crowd further… was shehere?? Was ‘my nun’ here on the very day the man I asked her to pray for finally received his heart? How many nuns from the small East African country of Burundi could be currently living in Morris County, NJ? It had to be her!
When the formal presentation was over, I made my way to the group of nuns. I asked, “Is the sister from Burundi here?” They said “Fides?” I did not understand because I did not know her first name. They pointed through the crowd and there was the baby blue dress of my tiny friend. I approached her with excitement and said “Do you remember me? The crazy lady in the car who asked you to pray for my friend, Dave Johnson?” “Oh yes,” she said, “I remember you.” I told her that Dave was getting his heart at that exact moment. She was a little confused at first then it all came together, and she gathered her fellow nuns and told them the story.
We were all smiling and excited. I told her that I would really like to take her to lunch to thank her for her kindness and prayers. The next day I took her out to lunch and we got to know each other a little better. She looked so young. I was surprised to know we were within a year in age. She told me her mother was ill and needed a medication that was common in the USA, but not in her country. I made some calls and helped her secure a prescription. Then, I took her to the Rockaway Pharmacy and Compounding where my longtime friend Greg is the pharmacist and was kind enough to give her the medication free of charge.
We have since become friends on Facebook and kept in touch over the last year. I sent her a note letting her know it was my turn for a transplant, and she prayed for me, too. Last spring, Fides asked if I might be able to help find a laptop for a family member in Africa. I gave her my old one, and a friend, Jack, cleaned it up for her to ensure it was operable. I mailed it to her in Scranton PA, where she spent last year teaching.
The Nuns at the Assumption College pray for the entire HCMA community regularly as I added our name to their prayer book. Yesterday I received a message on Facebook that Fides was back in town for a day. I was just leaving my office and told her I would be there in 10 minutes! It was nice to see my friend again, and we were able to spend a little time with her fellow nuns and talk. Given the stress and unrest in Charlottesville, sitting with nuns from all over the earth, and being present in their peace and joy was a lovely diversion.
Many believe in the power of prayer. Many believe in fate. I like to think that Fides and I were destined to meet. One of the other nuns was joking with Fides and said “Maybe someday you will be the patron saint of heart transplants!” I think I like that idea.
Thank you to Nicole Rivera for her editing assistance!