New year, new heart for Santa Rosa man
After 19 months on the waiting list for a donor heart, Jim Keegan was hours from seeing his best chance at a transplant slip away when the fear and uncertainty drove the Santa Rosa real estate broker and his wife, Diane, from their house.
Escaping to the coast in search of solace, the pair turned back toward home, suddenly worried spotty cellphone service might prevent them from receiving the life-saving call.
They were home less than half an hour when word arrived. A 19-year-old California man had died in an accident and Jim Keegan was to receive his heart via transplant that night at UC San Francisco Medical Center.
A day later, it was beating in his chest — the culmination of a roller-coaster 12 years of assessments, medicines, procedures, repeated heart failure and, finally, the surgery that literally granted Jim Keegan, 66, a new lease on life.
“The weight of the world is off my shoulders,” a still-giddy Diane Keegan said Monday, her words coming in a rush as she described the result for which hundreds of friends and supporters had hoped and prayed. “To have everything go so well, it just feels so good.”
On Saturday, just nine hours remained of a 30-day window, during which Keegan had priority status for a heart. That status was triggered by the surgical implantation three months earlier of a cumbersome mechanical device that was helping his heart function while he awaited a new one. On Jan. 4, he would have been knocked back to secondary status, reducing his chances of getting a heart.
Even as they hoped one would become available, they understood it would mean tragedy and loss for some other family, Diane Keegan said. Amid their advance prayers for whomever that might be, they kept Jim Keegan in virtual isolation, even from family, to ensure he wouldn’t pick up germs or illness that would put his candidacy at risk.
Jim Keegan had a little break — on Christmas Day, when, masked, he was able to share space with his four adult children and 10 grandkids, though he had to remain at a distance. After everyone left, his wife disinfected the house, she said.
But as New Year’s came, and the time for which Keegan would have priority consideration for any available heart counted down, he and his wife found their optimism tested, she said.
When they got “the call” at last Saturday afternoon, it proved so emotionally overwhelming for Diane that she started crying and screaming, practically hyperventilating, she said.
“I freaked out . . . and Jim was calm as a cucumber,” she said. “He said, ‘I’m driving.’ ”
As it turned out, his surgeon, Dr. Georg Wieselthaler, had been on vacation in Hawaii and luckily had returned a day early to catch up on paperwork, so he was on-hand to perform the transplant, she said.
“Some people believe in coincidence, some do not. I personally don’t. He was very, very lucky it worked out so well,” Wieselthaler said. He added that Jim Keegan is “doing great.”
“(Wieselthaler) had been home 12 hours, and the heart came in for Jim,” Diane Keegan said. “It’s just been a miracle. A miracle! Everything’s been a miracle.”