Chester and Jeanne Szuber were married for 37 years and were the proud parents of six children, the youngest of whom was 22-year-old Patti.

In spite of being a keen sportsman, Chester suffered a serious heart attack at the early age of 32. The doctor explained that, due to advanced arteriosclerosis, Chester’s arteries were clogged with plaque. Four years later, at age 37, he underwent his first surgery. And over the next 20 years, he experienced many more heart attacks. As a matter of fact, three times he has had major bypass surgery to replace clogged arteries around his heart. And on the last operation, he was walloped by a massive heart attack while on the operating table. Miraculously he survived. But thereafter Chester’s heart kept steadily deteriorating. And at 58, his life was all but over. Further bypass surgery was far too risky.

In August 1994, Patti, then 22, was at a party with her boyfriend, Todd. It was 2.20 a.m. when the couple decided to leave. Without realising that his blood alcohol level was notably higher than Tennessee’s legal limit, Todd took the wheel and was speeding at 30 Kms. above the permissible speed limit, when he lost control of the car at a bend in the road and crashed into the rocky side of the road. Most unfortunately neither he nor Patti was wearing a seatbelt. When the car came to rest, Patti had been thrown out of the ill-fated vehicle and lay on her back unconscious. Todd had numerous cuts and bruises but no serious injuries.

At 4.40 a.m. Jeanne and Chester were informed of the accident and tactfully told that their daughter, Patti, had been in a serious car accident. “I regret to inform you,” said the caller, “but your daughter’s in a very bad shape.” “How bad?” inquired the anxious mother. “I’m so sorry,” the voice in the night said gently. “I have to tell you that death may be moments away. I’m so very sorry.”

The hospital was in Knoxville, Tennessee, which was 800 Kms from their home in Berkley, Detroit. Within hours of the early-morning telephone call, the Szuber family – plus a dozen close friends and relatives – were heading to Knoxville to be at Patti’s bedside. There they learned the brutal truth that Patti had suffered severe brain damage and was being kept alive by machines. With tactful sensitivity, the attending doctors told them  that Patti’s brain was so severely damaged that there was no hope. With heavy and disconsolate hearts, Jeanne and Chester had no alternative but to say farewell, forever, to their darling daughter, Patti.

As it had earlier been her expressed and formal wish, Chester signed his name on the forms that lay on the coffee table in front of him, giving permission for his daughter’s organs and tissues to be removed and transplanted. Three days after the accident, it was 11.35 on that Sunday morning when Patti had been declared brain-dead. Machines would keep her body functioning until her organs were removed.

The formal and official handover process was done in the presence of Susan Fredenberg – a nurse with Tennessee Donor Services. Well aware of the father’s deteriorating heart condition, the nurse said to him, “Mr Szuber, Patti’s heart could go to you – for you to have is transplanted.” Such are the mysterious but marvellous ways of our Provident God and Father! Initially reluctant, Chester closed his eyes for a moment and thought, “Is it possible that Patti would want me to have her heart?” He first conferred with his dear wife, Jeanne, who went out and consulted the other five siblings. The decision was spontaneous and unanimous: “Yes, Dad, we and Patti would like you to have her heart!”

Promptly arrangements were made for the removal of the heart and the transferral to the other hospital, where a waiting and heavily sedated Chester waited for the arrival of a very, very precious gift that was successfully transplanted. Moments later Patti’s heart sprang to life, pumping blood through her father’s body. Unlike a repaired heart, which can take months to reach full potential, a healthy transplanted heart reaches its potential immediately.

Within a few hours, Chester was sitting on the edge of his bed. The next day he took a few steps on his own. And a few days later, while Chester rested  in his hospital room, along with a few close friends, the family gathered in Berkley at Our Lady of La Salette Church for Patti’s funeral.

As a Post-Script, it must be said that Patti’s heart did give her father a fresh life for 19 years. Further, her magnanimous generosity gave the hope of vision to two people, her kidneys to two others, her liver to a 15-year-old girl, and, of course, her pulsating and healthy heart to her own father! Jeanne, the mother, passed away in October 2013. [1]


[1] Reader’s Digest, March 2014, She gave her father life, pp.132-142