This is my cousin Keith Nettles. He was more like a brother to me because my parents were his legal guardian, so he grew up alongside my sister and me. His father John, my mom’s brother, died of a heart attack in her home. My mom’s youngest brother David also died of a heart attack. Keith died at the age of 60 August 25, 2019. It was the day before my mother’s birthday. He fought hard. He started his battle against heart failure with an LVAD or Left Ventricular Assist Device.
My parents took him to Vanderbilt where he received his LVAD. They stayed for quite some time. When he returned home, he explained what the device would do for him until he was able to get a donor heart. My youngest son was very fascinated by the fact that Keith did not have a heartbeat because the LVAD was doing the work his heart could not do. We knew that Keith’s second chance at life would only come in the aftermath of someone else’s tragedy. Someone else would have to die for Keith to get his new heart. People die every day but there are not donors every day. It is a unique gift to give. What we hoped for was that if someone was leaving this earth that they may think about the gift they could leave for others still in this world fighting for life. You cannot use your organs once you are gone but your organs can often still sustain the life of someone else.
It seemed like forever waiting for a donor heart. Keith began to get clots in his LVAD finding himself back in the hospital several times. On the way home from Vanderbilt during one of those stays my mom got a call we were not expecting. They said to her, “We have a heart.” They gave my parents instructions on what to do and where to go to meet the plane that would carry my cousin Keith to his donor heart and his second chance at life.
It was a little plane that my mom and Keith had to board. My Dad began the drive back to Vanderbilt in the car. My Mom called me trying to remain calm as she said, “Keith has a heart.” I had one more newscast to do. Tears ran down my cheeks as I screamed, “What are you saying? He has a heart.” It was so hard to stay at work for my last newscast but when I was done, I hit the road to join my family in Nashville, Tennessee.
It was very late at night. Our family found a quiet place in the waiting room to gather, pray, laugh, and eat. I’m not sure how many hours it took but the doctor came into the waiting room calling for the Nettles family as we all looked at him waiting to get the word that Keith had a strong, working, beating heart. That is exactly what he told us: “Keith was doing fine, and we could see him and soon as he was settled in his room”.
It took about three hours, but they allowed us to go into the room. I can remember so clearly the fear I felt because I just didn’t know what to expect. As I entered the room, he was sitting up in bed. You could see the bandages covering the incision down the middle of his chest. He was hooked to quit a few
devices, but he looked just fine. I asked him, “Can you feel your heart beating?” He answered, “I guess.” I then asked him, “How do you feel.” He answered, “The same way I always have. With my two hands.” Yep, that was my cousin Keith, and he was doing well. We were on the road to recovery thanks to someone
who shared the most precious thing that can be shared, a chance at life.
Keith was ready to get up and move and give thanks to his new life and his new heart. We were all so grateful. He did fine for some time. He enjoyed life. He enjoyed tail gating and family dinners and all the things he feared he’d never see again before receiving his gift. I think he may have enjoyed just a bit too much. He loved gardening and one very hot summer day he was piddling in the yard. He was out there for a couple of hours, and he got sick. An ambulance was called. Keith had a heat stroke.
We sat by his bed side telling jokes, stories and all the things we would do when he opened his eyes. On one occasion he gave my hand a hard squeeze to let me know he knew we were there. That was the last communication I had with him. We were preparing to celebrate my mom’s birthday. Instead, she called and said, “Come quick. Keith is dying.” I jumped in the car to get there to say my goodbyes. As I drove, I couldn’t even see through my tears. I pulled over and I just stopped.
Everything there was to say we had said, we had done, and we loved it all. We were able to enjoy my cousin Keith for a few more years thanks to someone’s selfless decision. They gave Keith a chance to live his dreams and enjoy his family. There is no greater gift.