Vickroy: Heart recipient treasures second chance, caring friends
BY DONNA VICKROY email@example.com Twitter: @dvickroy September 3, 2013 10:55PM
After being in isolation for two months while he recovered from a series of infections at Christ Medical Center, Ray Thompson was finally reunited with his children last fall. | Supplied photo
Updated: October 5, 2013 6:07AM
As bad luck goes, Ray Thompson’s has been pretty good.
Sure, the Lockport father of three has had it rough for many years. But for every troubling action fate has dealt him, there has been an uplifting reaction of some sort — or maybe that’s just the positive way Thompson chooses to look at things.
“This is the best I’ve felt in a long time,” he said during a phone conversation while undergoing postsurgery treatment at Christ Medical Center in Oak Lawn. “I feel like a new man. I’m a little sore, a little tender and a little restricted with what I can do, but my energy is great — physically and mentally.”
Two weeks earlier, Thompson received a new heart. So grateful for the second chance at life, he practically willed himself to make a speedy recover. As a result, he holds the hospital record for the swiftest discharge for a heart transplant patient: 10 days.
“Sure, there are a lot of things I can’t do right now — I can’t drive, can’t eat certain things, have to wear a mask if I go anywhere — but as I get stronger, those restrictions will be lifted,” he said.
Within a year, if all goes well, he expects to be able to return to a normal life — his normal life. That means doing all the normal things dads and husbands do.
“You know all those things we tend to take for granted,” he said.
Thompson was just 26, and had been married to his high school sweetheart, Amanda, for only two years when he learned he had contracted a virus that caused early onset heart failure.
“I was like, ‘Are you kidding
me?’ ” he said.
The former Thornwood High School football and baseball player watched helplessly as his health deteriorated and flu-like symptoms increased over the next few years.
In addition to taking a toll on his health, the condition was decimating the family’s finances. Mostly, though, Thompson hated that every time he went to a hospital, his kids — Ray-Ray, 8, Keyra, 5, and Eva, 1 — would worry that he wasn’t coming home.
By 2008, just four years after the diagnosis, Thompson’s condition had begun to deteriorate rapidly. Doctors at Palos Community Hospital installed a pacemaker and a defibrillator.
While he was hospitalized, recovering from the surgery, he suffered a small stroke. It left him with a vocabulary of just three words.
It took nine months of hard work to rebuild his language skills but he was able to restore 95 percent of what had been lost.
Gradually, though, the feelings of exhaustion returned, despite the 20 different medications he was taking.
“Then I heard about these doctors at Christ who specialized in treating heart failure,” Thompson said.
He made an appointment. But during a series of tests that included a treadmill workout and oxygen chamber assessment, Thompson fell seriously ill. He was admitted to Christ in September 2012, and doctors performed an LVAD procedure.
According to the Mayo Clinic, a ventricular assist device is an implantable mechanical pump that helps pump blood from the lower chambers of the heart to the rest of the body.
The devices, which can be installed on the left or right side of the heart, are used in people who have weakened hearts or heart failure. They are also often implanted in patients awaiting a transplant, as a means of keeping the patient as healthy as possible until the procedure can be completed.
Thompson’s surgery was a success, but during his stay at Christ, he contracted several infections, he said.
“I ended up staying in the hospital for 99 days,” he said. “I didn’t get to see my kids from Sept. 4 to Thanksgiving Day. I missed my youngest daughter’s first birthday, although I got to Facetime her.”
In February, he went on the transplant list. By June, doctors had bumped up his need status to the top tier. He was told it could take six to eight months for a heart to be procured. But on Aug. 12 he got the call.
“They said it was a perfect match,” he said.
When he awoke at 4:30 a.m. on Aug. 14, he put his hand on his chest and felt something he hadn’t experienced in a long time — a heartbeat.
“I had not had a detectable pulse since last September,” he said. “It was amazing, like Christmas morning.”
Finally on the road to recovery, Thompson, 35, said his biggest obstacle now is overcoming the pile of medical bills that has accumulated over the years.
To help him over this hurdle and to spread the word about the importance of organ donation, family and friends are planning a benefit. Plans for the event actually began months ago, before Thompson was even placed on the transplant list.
Raising for Ray will be from 2 to 7 p.m. Saturday at 115 Bourbon Street, 3359 W. 115th St., Merrionette Park. Cost is $30 and includes dinner and beverages.
Though the Thompsons have medical insurance, the outstanding costs are still more than the family can handle. It is estimated that a heart transplant alone costs more than $900,000.
Thompson said he hopes to be able to return to his job as an analyst for Northern Trust Bank in Chicago soon.
Meanwhile, generous people have been helping the family out. He said his friends at Parkview Christian Church, in Lockport and Orland Park, have helped tremendously.
Others, including White Sox pitcher Gavin Floyd, have visited him in the hospital and “done a lot to lift my spirits,” he said.
“I am so thankful,” he said.
Despite heavy restrictions on his comings and goings, Thompson hopes “to be at the benefit in some form, just to be able to thank everyone,” he said.
For more information about the benefit, or to read Thompson’s blog, visit raisingforray.com