Gift of Life: ‘I knew I was dying,’ Oklahoma man needed a life-saving donation

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One of KFOR's own is personally connected to this special Thanksgiving Story

OKLAHOMA CITY (KFOR) – This Thanksgiving marks a major milestone for an Oklahoma man, one very near and dear to one of KFOR’s own.

News 4’s Jacklyn Chappell’s father will be sitting around the Thanksgiving table on Thursday with his family, celebrating a moment they weren’t sure would ever come: his first holiday with a new heart.

Nurses clapped as my dad, Jack Chappell, wheeled around the corner outside of his hospital wing.

“Bye, Jack! Yay!” his nurses said.

It was a moment we weren’t sure would ever come. My dad was leaving the hospital for the first time in over four months.

“Do you feel like you’ve been given a second chance at life?” I asked him.

“I think it’s happened three times,” dad said.

Dad is still working on his recovery after receiving the gift of life over the summer, a heart transplant.

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The Chappell family.

But this journey is one he began years earlier.

Dad first learned he had congestive heart failure in 2013.

His diagnosis took a turn two years later. Starting with the death of my Grandpa Andy, my dad’s dad. Grandpa lost his life to heart problems at the age of 74 after spending eight weeks in a coma at INTEGRIS Baptist Hospital.

Then dad was placed in the exact same ICU where his own father was just two weeks earlier.

“I had a feeling. I knew I was dying,” dad said. “I was doing really well just doing my medicines with heart failure. The problem is when you deal with stress and all that stuff, it just compounded what was going on inside my body.”

We were told dad needed a life-saving open-heart procedure or go home and die within six months.

The heart team at INTEGRIS Baptist, the only hospital in the state, were able to save him.

Dad ultimately chose the surgery, having a heart pump called an LVAD implanted and leaving him attached to batteries 24/7.

After years of adjusting to his own new normal with the LVAD, dad finally took the step of getting himself listed on the heart transplant list in early 2020. 

That process includes testing and approval by the transplant team. They ultimately are the ones who will get you listed.

But that journey was put on hold due to a global pandemic.

Dad actually got COVID-19 and thankfully recovered, but his heart continued to get weaker.

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Jack receiving love and comfort from his wife, Kristi.

And in early 2021, he was back in the hospital.

His only option now – a new heart.

“His need for transfusion and his need for constant care had reached the point where it was the best, safest and most appropriate thing to put him in the hospital,” said Dr. Doug Horstmanshof. co-director of INTEGRIS Advanced Cardiac Care. “When we did that, that was also then the reason that he was moved up the transplant list.”

And that’s where dad waited for the next three and a half months. Filling his time working remotely from his hospital bed from March 20 until July 6.

On that day, Doctor Doug walked into dad’s room with the news we’d been waiting to hear.

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Jack and Jacklyn.

“He said, ‘Well, we think we found you a great match,’” dad said. “Truthfully, I don’t remember anything after he told us.”

“We remember that conversation. It was meaningful. I didn’t want anybody else to come tell him. I wanted to be the one to come over and share that with him. It was a great morning,” Horstmanshof said.

“We didn’t want to hear it from anybody else but you,” I said.

The next 24 hours were a whirlwind of activity and emotions. 

My mom, Kristi Chappell, arrived within the hour to give dad the biggest hug. Nurses who have been like family were crying along with us. Tears, excitement, and fear.

“It’s been over 24 hours…I just pray the heart’s good,” dad said the day of surgery.

“It’s very good,” I replied.

And then it was time for surgery.

image of Jack Chappell
Jack feeling positive.

After over 10 hours in the operating room, he was taken up to the ICU.

Mom documented the entire process through text messages.

“So many things happened. So, I just started sending him texts that he could read when he woke up. So, every time the doctor updated us, every time something funny happened,” Mom said. “It ended up being 12 or 15 really long texts that he got to read.”

Dad’s chest had to be left open after surgery to control bleeding. He was then placed on ECMO, giving his heart and lungs a break. During that time, he was unconscious, but after just a few days, he was finally well enough to wake up.

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Jack and his family, looking forward to a future of good health.

And just two weeks later, he was ready to head home for the first time in over 100 days.

“You ready to go home?” I asked dad as we walked out the hospital front doors.

He was ready.

“He’s a very tough man. It’s very nice to be his son because he takes care of all of us while going through all this,” said my brother, Andrew.

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Jack and the good folks who took care of him.

Thankful to spend Thanksgiving and the holidays together as a family, but not forgetting the gift of life.

“I try not to dwell on things I can’t control. I pray for that person and I pray for his family. I don’t know who they are. I think that if there’s a chance where I can ever meet them, I think it would probably hit more,” dad said.

“We can’t do this without the gift of life from people. For every family that’s received an organ to a loved one of to themselves this year, there’s a family that’s grieving and remembering someone that’s not there,” Horstmanshof said.

Our family is thankful for more time with our Captain Jack.

“I want to make it to my 70s. I want to see you get married. I want to see you have kids. I want to see my son succeed. I think every parent wants their kids to do better than they did and that’s what I want to see for the next few years,” Dad said.

All things we want as well.

My dad does hope to someday meet his donor’s family. He plans on writing them a letter.

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Captain Jack, back home with his new heart.

According to Lifeshare of Oklahoma, 645 Oklahomans are waiting for a life-saving organ donation, and 22 of those are waiting on a heart.

Lifeshare is also encouraging everyone to make the decision to become an organ donor and talk about their decision with their families and loved ones over the holiday.

Copyright 2021 Nexstar Media Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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