Mike Covert’s Journey, a story about the number 13

Way back in 1984, a whole three years before I was born, my dad died.

I’m sorry, you must be confused. Let me explain. My dad, Mike Covert, is a heart transplant recipient. He was 22 years young and working as a carpenter, just getting used to married life with a 2 year old daughter, and then he got sick. Now, as you can imagine, over the years I have never personally known the full story, but from what I have gathered from my parents and various newspaper clippings that my grandmother saved, it was a virus that damaged my dad’s heart beyond repair. He was very sick and his heart grew to almost triple in size, a condition known as cardiomyopathy.  He was placed on the transplant list at St. Louis University Hospital and soon received his first transplant; the 13th person at SLUH to receive a heart transplant.

That brings us back to that shocking and confusing first sentence. You see, at one or two points in his operation, he was actually “dead.”

The first new heart my dad received came from a young man who sadly chose to end his own life. This man saved my dad as well as my younger sister and myself. You see, we would both have never been born. Well, way back in the 80s, the life expectancy for a heart transplant recipient was about 5 years. Fast forward 30 years later and you have my dad, though very ill, still very much alive.

Over the next 30 years, my dad was not without health problems. The vast amount of prescription drugs he was required to take had a number of unpleasant side effects. One of those side effects caused his hip joints to deteriorate. He has now had three hip replacements and has been on disability ever since the first. My mom never really planned on being the money maker in the house, but when dad was put on disability with three young children to support, my mom was forced to find work. She worked a few places but eventually ended up at National’s, a grocery store chain that has since been bought out by Schnucks. She has worked there ever since in order to provide for the family.

Things seemed to be going great until 2007, when he had a mild stroke. After that, his health seemed to slowly deteriorate causing problem after problem. He had to have a pacemaker and defibrillator implanted into his chest, so many stents I cannot even count, and his thyroid stopped working properly. Still he fought and stayed active, he never gave up. In 2013, his doctors at Barnes-Jewish Hospital decided it was time to place him on the transplant list once again. He went through a lot of tests and meetings with coordinators until finally, on September 13th, 2013, he was officially placed on the list. Weeks and months went by where he got sicker. More stents were placed to help keep his heart functioning. It was just running out of juice. I think that we all started to think he might never get his transplant.

On March 12th, 2015 I received a simple text from my dad at 10:21pm, “New heart!!!!!!!” I could not believe what I was reading. I cried and smiled and felt so much joy and fear. I got in my car and drove through the night to make it to my dad before he went in for surgery. We all couldn’t help but notice the date on which his transplant would take place, March 13th, 2015. I arrived at the hospital around 4am that Friday morning and found my family in the waiting room. I was able to go see my dad at around 5am where I got to witness him signing the consent form for his new heart. After a lot of tests, preparation, and tears from my dad and our family, my dad went away for his operation at about 7am. The operation started at 8am and continued until about 5:30pm. About halfway through the operation, the surgeon came out and gave us some not so great news. Though the heart was working on its own for a time, it wasn’t working hard enough so they decided to put my dad on a support machine that pumps his lungs and heart for him. This meant that he would have to be kept sedated until the machine came off. I don’t think any of us expected that he would have to remain sedated for so long.

At the end of the surgery, a nurse named Emily allowed all 25+ family members come down to his room to see him and get a brief on how the surgery went. It was the most emotional moment of my life, so far.

Dad is now in a fairly stable condition, but is still sedated and having difficulties with his kidneys and heart. My mom has only spent a grand total of 4 hours outside of the hospital since that first night and will remain there with him until he is well enough to send her away.

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