A Change of Heart.
Being young, fit, and healthy with an active lifestyle, it came as a shock to David Rich, a member of Albany Ward in Harbour Stake, to be told last year that he needed a heart transplant.
Brother Rich, his wife Julie and their five children moved to New Zealand from America six years ago and greatly enjoyed the outdoor lifestyle that they found here. Despite having a pacemaker implanted before he left the USA, David's health was good, and he regularly played tennis, golf, and went camping and tramping with family and friends. As a life-long member of the Church he adhered to the Word of Wisdom and had never smoked, drank alcohol, or used drugs. David said “When we moved to New Zealand I wanted to focus more of my time with my family and get a better church/ work / family balance in my life. I've loved the opportunities here to spend more time with my children, play sports, travel, and get outside and enjoy life”.
During a golf game in December 2009, Rich noticed tingling and numbness in his arm. The next morning when he went to get out of bed, he had suffered a stroke. He was 41 years old. Though he recovered quickly, and the paralysis and difficulty with speech improved, it was an indication that something was not right. In September 2010 his health started to deteriorate rapidly. He was so nauseous he had lost 20 kg by Christmas. The congestion on his lungs caused an irregular heartbeat, and his pacemaker/defibrillator kicked in on several occasions.
Admitted to hospital in January last year as a result of congestive heart failure, the doctors identified that his heart had weakened to the point that he needed a heart transplant. He was on the transplant waiting list for 3 months and remained in hospital during this time. “It was an emotional roller-coaster ride for me”, he said. “At first it was very difficult for me to accept that I needed a new heart, because I knew what it would mean for the donor and their family. My dad died when I was 14, so I knew exactly what type of grief they would have to go through. But I had to remind myself, that the eventual donor wasn't dying because of me”.
In April last year, David's health deteriorated further, and the outcome did not look good. After being home for two weeks, he was re-admitted to hospital again to drain fluid from his lungs, but the procedure wasn't helping, he was nearing the end and the doctors didn't think he would last the week. He recalls “I stayed as positive as I could for as long as possible, but the IV medication had stopped working and I felt like I wasn't going to make it much longer. I had prayed to Heavenly Father to just make it end one way or the other. I finally stopped praying just to be kept alive, and asked for His will to be done, whatever that might be. Within the hour the doctor came in and said that a heart had become available. Maybe when we search for God's will rather than our own and submit ourselves completely to it, things happen a little faster.”
On the Thursday before Easter weekend in 2011, David went in to surgery and received his new heart. The operation was a success, and he was kept in a medically induced coma during Good Friday to enable his body to recuperate. The significance of receiving a new heart, and receiving a “new life” at Easter weekend was not lost on David, who says that the medical challenge has brought him much closer to Heavenly Father, and has given him increased knowledge and deeper understanding of the closeness to family who have moved beyond the veil, adding “They continue to be aware and concerned about us here on earth.”
A year on from that momentous day, David celebrated his “heart” anniversary by completing a half marathon, on April 21st, and took part in the Rotorua marathon at the end of April. He continues to see Heavenly Father's hand at work in his life, and has had no trouble with organ rejection as he adjusts to living with the steady beat of his new heart. In fact, he has enjoyed a text book recovery, so perfect and uneventful and so rare, that the transplant doctors have never seen anything like it before. He is reminded of Ether 12:6, one of his favourite scriptures, “And now, I, Moroni, would speak somewhat concerning these things; I would show unto the world that faith is things which are hoped for and not seen; wherefore, dispute not because ye see not, for ye receive no witness until after the trial of your faith.” He says, “My faith was tested to an extreme and pushed to the limit. I'm grateful for this trial or challenge because I don't think that I could have come closer to the Saviour or Heavenly Father any other way. Strangely enough, I miss that time in the hospital when I had all the time in the world to pray. I've never felt closer to Heavenly Father than I did at that point in time. Since that time, I've struggled to feel that same closeness and began wondering what I was doing wrong - almost abandoned. Then I came to the conclusion that I wasn't being abandoned, I just wasn't being 'carried' anymore.”
The Rich family has been overwhelmed by the love and support they have received from everyone. “It was difficult for us to accept help initially as we have never had to be on the receiving end. It was a humbling experience to receive such love and support from our Ward Family, and brings tears when I think of it. Our burden was truly lightened thanks to our wonderful friends”, David said.
“I know that we may dislike challenges and trials in our lives. But, they are nothing more than blessings from Heavenly Father”, he continues. “I have been incredibly blessed. I know miracles still happen. They happen every day. I will thank Heavenly Father every day for the special gift given to me to allow me more time with my family here on earth. I value the time that I have with them, and I don't want to be wasting time doing things that don't matter. I'm grateful that this experience has helped me to focus on the important things in life – my family, and my relationship with the Saviour. Just like Alma preached in the Book of Mormon, I have literally experienced a mighty ”change of heart“, and it has brought me closer to God.”
PHOTO CREDIT: Image courtesy of Jeremy Higgins and used with permission.