Santa Rosa couple's love persists throughout health scares

  • Mary and Don Coover at their home in Santa Rosa, California on Thursday, January 17, 2013. (BETH SCHLANKER/ The Press Democrat)

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.

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