It was 26 years ago that first-grade teacher Mary Coover gave her heart to a man who had no inkling that his life would come to depend on receiving so much more from her.
Shaking his head and smiling, Santa Rosa native Don Coover mused, "If Mary had known what she was getting into when she met me, she might have said, 'I'm out of here!'"
The woman he'd first encountered on a blind-date dinner at the Flamingo Hotel saw him through the rigors of a heart transplant -- then a second one. And after that, the arduous process of him coming back from a shriveled, near-death state of 103 pounds and learning anew to speak and perform even the simplest tasks.
On top of all that, Mary Coover underwent surgery to give her husband one of her kidneys.
"It was nothing," she said. Then she made clear she wasn't joking.
Now 64 and retired from Steele Lane Elementary, Mary said that supporting the man she loves through the ordeal of nearly back-to-back heart transplants was an honor, and that donating a kidney to him was no big deal.
"Honestly, it was the easiest surgery," she said.
She and Don, who's 68 and part owner of Petaluma's Kresky Signs, have written and self-published a book they hope will provide encouragement to people in need of an organ transplant and will prompt others to sign up as potential donors.
The format of "I Left My Heart at Stanford. . ." alternates a chapter of recollections and reflections from Don with a chapter written by Mary.
Both of them recount the moment at Stanford Hospital in April 2006 when Mary leaned to his ear as he was being wheeled into an operating room for one of what turned out to be only the first of his heart transplants.
She whispered to him, "Think sex."
Born in 1944 at Santa Rosa's former Tanner Hospital at Fifth and King streets, Don Coover discovered early on that there was something a bit different about him.
His skin was extraordinarily stretchy. He wrote in the first chapter of the book, "I could pull my skin several inches away from my body, especially at the joints, knees, elbows, neck and underside of the arms. Kids would call me Stretch."
He learned from his mother that the condition had been passed among some members of their family for about six generations, that he had to be quite careful because his skin would easily cut, tear or bruise.
For the most part, though, the oddity was simply that. Don, who graduated from Santa Rosa High School in 1962, swam competitively and became a heck of a skier.
But a scary incident late in 1990 revealed that what he sometimes calls his "chicken skin" was an indication of serious trouble. He had been bothered by discomfort in his chest when he suddenly slipped into a trance -- while driving on Santa Rosa's steep Fountain Grove Parkway.
Mary, who'd been seated next to him that day 22 years ago, wrote in their book that the car veered to the left. "I screamed, 'Don,' because his head was leaning against the window and I thought he had passed out."
Don regained his wits and a short while later was on an emergency-room examination bed at Memorial Hospital. Tests discovered that his heart was enlarged and a valve was leaking because of the same condition that caused his stretchy skin.