While hearts have always been synonymous with February and Valetine’s Day, one particular heart has extra special meaning this year for one Litchfield couple.
James Randle had a life-saving heart transplant last September in Chicago, and continues to thrive now that he has returned to Litchfield with his wife, Sara.
Their story starts in October 2018 when James started not feeling well. After a trip to the doctor, they suspected he had pneumonia. Only he didn’t get any better after several days. He would spend three days in a Springfield hospital before being transferred to the University of Chicago for treatment.
Doctors tried medicine, but when his condition didn’t improve in a month, they suggested a heart pump.
“They were hoping it would get him through until he could get a heart transplant,” Sara said. “It helped for about four days.”
On Nov. 16, James, who was now considered in heart failure, went into surgery to get an LVAD, a left ventricular assist device, which is a pump that helps the left ventricle pump blood to the rest of the body.
“I did great with that,” James said. “I was in the hospital for a couple of weeks and then rehab before getting to go home.”
Throughout his journey, Sara, was battling breast cancer. Their daughter, Robin “Birdie” Randle, had by chance taken a semester off from college, and was able to help both her parents navigate treatment options and be there to support them.
“Birdie took care of us the whole time,” said Sara. “I don’t know what we would have done without her.”
The couple was able to return to Litchfield in the spring of 2019, and continued to go about their normal routines. Sara owns and operates Coffee Xpresso and James works for Litchfield National Bank.
“I hope our community knows how wonderful they are,” Sara said. “It’s just such a special place. They have been so good to us.”
Then, this past June, doctors decided it was time to put James on the heart transplant list. They told him since he was doing so well on the LVAD that he wasn’t a high priority on the list and would likely have to wait one to three years for a heart.
He waited less than three months.
The call for a heart came on Saturday, Sept. 19, at 11:15 p.m.
“I thought it was a prank phone call,” Sara said, but it was the real deal. Doctors had a heart for James.
“I was definitely surprised when they called,” James said. “But I didn’t want to say no. Who knew when the next opportunity would be?”
After asking some questions, the couple agreed to proceed and immediately left for Chicago, arriving in the early hours of the morning. James was prepped for an eight hour surgery that started around noon, just more than 12 hours after he found out doctors had a heart.
“I didn’t end up getting to see him until midnight that night,” Sara said. “But they just kept telling us it was a great heart. That was literally all we knew all day.”
His surgery took a little longer than some transplants as doctors had to remove the LVAD first, but things went well, and his recovery improved faster than doctors expected.
Initially, the Randles were told they would have to live in Chicago for one year after the transplant. However, James did so well, that was downgraded to six months, and he actually arrived home in Litchfield in January.
“Coming home was one of the best decisions,” Sara said. “It’s been great.”
They do continue to return to Chicago for check-ups, and Randle will have to take anti-rejection medicine for the rest of his life.
But in the past few weeks, he’s had the chance to return slowly to his job at Litchfield National Bank, and even to the gym for workouts during off-times. With his immune system weakened, the couple tend to avoid crowded places and take other COVID-related precautions.
And while James continues to thrive, Sara said they know the other side of the coin.
“On the drive to Chicago that night, James told me that someone is planning a funeral right now,” Sara said.
Currently, there is a six-month waiting period for families to learn anything about donors, and the Randles haven’t decided whether or not they will check into that further.
For now, they are enjoying a new lease on life, and helping daughter, Birdie, to plan a wedding this summer in their backyard.
“We have no idea why this happened,” Sara said. “We’ve learned not to question a whole lot. But we’re thankful for the wonderful, wonderful care we received. And always remember to find the silver lining.”