Promises to Keep

As a New Year’s gift to you, for the month of January we are reprising some of our favorite posts from 2014—those with an inspirational message we think you will find encouraging.


I loved meeting and interviewing Scott Stanley when my husband was a stem cell transplant patient at Mayo Clinic.  This is an expanded version of a post from April 16, 2014.  Scott’s courage and the story of how he discovered what was really important in life inspired me, and I hope it will encourage you as well.





By Scott Stanley

As told to Sharon Sheppard


The ring of the cell phone barely registered above the rowdy banter of our two preschoolers.  Still hyped and sweaty from their T-ball game, they strained against the seatbelts of our minivan, ignoring my wife’s attempts to shush them.


“Scott,” said the voice on the line, “Joan, from the Mayo Clinic.  We have a heart.”


I hesitated, not sure I’d heard right.  A heart transplant offered virtually the only hope that I could survive long enough to see my kids grow up.  And as a 37-year-old dad, I had determined to grab that chance if and when it ever came.


“We need you here in three hours, Scott.  Four at the most,” Joan said.  “Unfortunately, our Mayo jet is grounded by a severe local thunderstorm.”


“We’ll figure out something,” I said, and flipped the phone shut.


“We’ve got a heart,” I said to my wife, Cheri.  She stepped on the gas.


Arranging transportation for the 350-mile trip from our home near Lincoln, Nebraska, to  Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota, proved agonizing.  On separate cell phones, my dad, my wife, and I kept hitting dead ends.  Finally we connected with a pilot and an UltraAir corporate turbojet out of Moline, Illinois, from one of the many companies that provide free transportation for transplant patients.


Health crises had kept me away from my family far too often.  A few days earlier, after returning home from Mayo for the umpteenth time, I’d told my boys, “Now Daddy can be home for a whole month.”  Three-year-old Blake and five-year-old Chase cheered.


Now I fervently clung to the boys at the airport, knowing this could be the last time they would ever see their dad alive.  As Cheri and I left them in the hands of their grandparents and walked toward the plane, Chase stood near the runway crying.  “But Daddy,” he shouted, “you said you’d be home for a month!  You promised!”


As the plane taxied for takeoff, I stared back at my two precious kids until distance and darkness swallowed them up.  My faulty heart thudded, and my somber thoughts turned to a family that was grieving the loss of a young person this night.  Someone who had to die so I could have a chance to live.


Until my diagnosis, I had never heard of hypertrophy cardiomyopathy (HCM), a congenital heart disorder that affects about one in 500 people.  As superintendent of a golf course, I’d worked 18-hour days, and I loved my work.  I’d always been vigorous, athletic, and driven.


After months of testing, five stop-gap surgeries, and numerous car trips to Mayo Clinic, the doctors said they had done everything they could do for me short of a transplant.  They had no idea when a heart might become available.  I only hoped I could hang on that long.


Now, shrouded in white, I listened as the surgeon reiterated what I already knew.


“Scott, there are no guarantees with this.  You need to know that you may not make it off the table.”


“I will,” I said.  “I’ve got to.”


I’m a stubborn guy, and for once in my life, maybe this would be an asset.  I love my boys more than I ever dreamed possible, and I knew I couldn’t leave Cheri to raise them alone.


The attendant wheeled me into surgery at 3:30 a.m.  A highly skilled team of specialists removed my failing heart and replaced it with the one that had so recently beat in the chest of its young donor.  Three hours after the procedure began, my new heart was up and running.  At 11:30 that morning, the team moved me into ICU.


When the haze of anesthesia cleared, I woke to a mass of tubes connecting me to a wall of state-of-the-art machinery.  In spite of debilitating nausea, my first waking thought was, “I made it!  I’m alive.”


Through an incredibly long and miserable recovery, Cheri was my rock and my best friend.  She slept at the hospital for two weeks, closely following a terrifying pattern of medical and emotional ups and downs.


After my release, I spent the next couple of months at Gift of Life House near Mayo, a home-like facility for transplant patients and their caregivers.  Now the tedious days of recuperation hung as heavy as Nebraska humidity.  The only thing that kept me motivated to persevere through all those mindless repetitions of physical therapy was the promise I’d made Chase to be home for his first day of kindergarten.


I suppose a guy can’t go through these kinds of crises without some heavy-duty soul searching.  “Why me?”  I asked.  I felt increasingly useless and depressed.


But as my physical health improved, my mental and spiritual outlooks did, as well.  I came to value my family and my faith as never before.  Coming face to face with death helped me to gain a new perspective on the fact that God must have plans for me.


While working on the golf course, my church attendance had slipped.  Weekends were busy on the course, and I joked that I worshipped at the Chapel of the Eighteen Holes every Sunday.  Now I knew that was one of the things that had to change.  I would never have made it through all of this without God’s help, and I couldn’t ignore that fact that His Son, too, had to die so I could live.


Against the recommendation of the transplant coordinator, I finagled a pass to go home.  On a brilliant Midwestern fall day, I walked the four blocks with Chase to school.  Kids from up and down the street streamed into the schoolyard, dressed in their new, first-day-of-school clothes.  Chase eased into the crowd and then, with a wave, disappeared behind the heavy doors.  I wouldn’t have missed that for the world.


“My daddy walked to school with me today,” he bragged to his class.  “He’s got a new heart.”

Indeed, I have.  In more ways than one.


© Copyright, Sharon Sheppard, 2014