15 Years Ago, a Story

15 years ago today, at about this time, I was in Ann Arbor, Michigan, visiting my dad, Athanasios, after having gone through a much-needed heart transplant. I can’t believe it’s been 15 years!!!

The day started off, at least the heart transplant part of it, with an accident near Battle Creek. I believe a man in his low to mid-20s was involved in a motorcycle accident (although it does seem odd someone would be riding a motorcycle in the winter). The young man was an organ donor, and they quickly matched his heart to my dad. Earlier in the week, they had found a heart for my dad, but near surgery time, they found out that the heart was damaged or not a perfect match, so he waited for the heart he received on the 21st of February.

I was up at Michigan Technological University, mtunot doing very well in a particular class, the Electronic Circuits course non-electrical engineers have to take. I had barely studied, finals were almost over, and we had gone out drinking, celebrating the end of our winter trimester. I was out that night with David Patrickus and John Lovat (now deceased, rest his soul), among other people: John Vogler, Jaime Park (had a crush on her), others. Anyway, we got pretty tanked and I ended up crashing at 1315 Ruby, where Pepe (Dave) lived with Aaron Vanderveen, Sean O’Brien, Todd Neuharth, and Jason Turk. 1315rubyI was pretty drunk that night, and ended up throwing up once or twice before passing out. The phone rang at about 3AM or so, and Pepe hands me the phone phone, telling me it was Dino, my brother. He says, “They found a sorry sap with a heart for dad…a jet with the surgeons is on the way to get it.” I was fighting consciousness at this point, but knew right away I had to make things happen to: 1) Get out of my final which was at about 8AM in the circuits course, 2) Secure a ride to the lower peninsula, 3) And make arrangements to make it to the University of Michigan Medical Center to see my dad (or my “dear old dad” as Dino likes to refer to him).

Somehow, magically, I was able to see Dean Janners (who already hated me by this point in my MTU career) and get an incomplete in my circuits class. I also arranged to hitch a ride in Vanderveen’s gold color S-10 with the extended cab (I’ll never forget that truck, it was cool). He was going to take me to MSU, where Un-ho arranged to grab me and take me to Ann Arbor (he was attending U of M, so it was no big deal for him to lend a hand).

The trip down was a total blur. I was probably asleep for some of the trip, which normally doesn’t happen. I’m typically awake on road trips. Even when I’m falling asleep at the wheel and someone else takes over, I perk right up when I’m “off duty” and in the passenger seat.

Fast forward some… I don’t even know how we arranged to meet up, without cell phones being commonplace yet, but Un-ho and I met up, Vanderveen ventured off to Wyoming, MI, and we headed to U of M.

When I got the hospital, it was like a movie or news story you read or hear about. We went to the cardio-thoracic ICU, where I found out the young man who gave his heart to my dad also gave his lungs and kidneys (if I recall correctly), and possibly his liver to 2 other people, saving a total of 3 lives! I had just missed my brother Dino and my sister Gina. My mom was there naturally, and got me set up with the nurses to wear a mask and gloves. Un-ho stayed for a little bit, too, and was able to see my dad. When I got into my dad’s room, glass door enclosed, signs all over the place about keeping clean, keeping masks and gloves on, etc., he had just woken up. I vividly remember tears running down his cheeks, his heart monitor showing 180 – 200 BPM. I asked the nurse about that right away and she told me it was a drug-induced situation where they stress the heart right away to make sure it “takes”, for lack of a better word. I was in awe. I think Un-ho was in awe. It was really just amazing, remarkable, and a total miracle.

I had been up at MTU for 3 years, and for a large part of this time, I had known and accepted my dad was going to die… he had a second bypass surgery that didn’t go very well, and his heart became about 15% functional. He had a very bleek outlook and future ahead of him. My brother and I even took him to Greece in 1993, sort of like his last trip there. It was pretty miserable for him. He couldn’t even walk from our house there down to the Filias family home, where his brother, John “Yanni” (now deceased) and wife Kiki (now deceased) lived. He had to be driven everywhere. Overall, we were so glad we made this trip with him, and he did his best to spoil us, sending us on a cruise, which showed us about 8 or so islands. It was a nice setup for future trips to Greece and island-hopping. Thanks Baba! Anyway, my point is that he was dying after his 2nd bypass surgery. It got to the point where he had a defibrillator installed into his heart. Defibrillators aren’t supposed to fire very often, from what I was told. Maybe a few times a year. What would happen is that his heart would go from 40-50 BPM to 180+ in the span of one heartbeat! Talk about pain and exhaustion… the poor guy. I think the first time it ever happened, him and Dino were building my iguana, Marika, a cage. I think he collapsed very quickly and got back up, sort of dazed. This was the beginning of a bad cycle of a few weeks, which lead to the heart transplant.

Anyway, Baba. I am so thankful to God that I can write this story of my recollection of the day, 15 years ago. I am so grateful to my dear friends who made the reunion with my family possible with such short notice: Aaron Vanderveen and Un-ho Yi. I’m thankful to all the family and friends that have ever supported us during these times, and I’m extremely grateful and thankful to Gina, who on the day after winning homecoming queen, had to revive my dad with CPR. It all feels so matter-of-fact, but none of it is, really. It seems like everything lined up in exactly the right spot for this day to be the way it is today.

There is an old post on my brother’s bulletin board, from 2002… I can’t believe how time flies!!!

Also to note, February 21 is also the day my dad’s brother, John (Yanni) passed away.

A picture of my mom and dad!

Christopher's 1st Birthday-33

And a picture of my cousin Lilly, my aunt Kiki (mentioned above), my aunt Koko (my mom’s sister, deceased), my dad, and my uncle John (Yanni, deceased).

At the Airport