From Big Heart to New Heart
By Mike Slizewski
Siskiyou Daily News
Copyright 2010 Siskiyou Daily News. Some rights reserved
When we left our intrepid cowboy poet in part 1 of his story, he and partner Julie Watts had just boarded a plane at the Siskiyou County Airport outside Montague for a flight to California Pacific Medical Center in San Francisco, where he had just been told a new heart was waiting for him.
“So we get to San Francisco Executive Airport, and we’re met by an ambulance that would take us to the hospital,” Jones said. “The ‘ambulance’ drivers were so young I had to check and see if they had driver’s licenses.”
“But what a well-run machine,” Watts said. “It was just amazing.”
“So we get to the hospital and within four-and-a-half hours of the phone call, I was in a hospital gown in bed with a central line in my chest,” Jones said.
“And then we waited, and waited,” Watts added.
Then they changed the (operation) time three times,” Jones said, “because the donor’s heart was not yet available. Third time’s the charm, though.”
“It takes less time to do a heart transplant than a bypass,” Watts said, “about four-and-a-half hours, with zero complications.”
“Those all popped up later,” Butch said.
Jones’ daughter Kristi was fascinated by the process.
“They tag it all when they take it out so they can put the new one in right,” she said.
“While I was waiting, Julie and I held each other’s hand and we were really calm,” Jones continued.
“We said a prayer, and we were at peace,” Watts added. “I wasn’t worried at all. I wouldn’t want to go through it again, but I wasn’t worried.”
“Then I came out of surgery and I was in the critical care unit; that’s where you wake up at,” the man with the new heart said.
“And he woke up pretty quickly,” Julie said.
“My chest was kind of sore,” he recalled. “I had tubes in my throat, wires coming out me, monitors, IVs, and the nurse that was bringing me back – Barbara, a super gal, very dutiful – kept telling what she was doing, and calling me ‘Chuck.’ I couldn’t talk, so I finally got a paper and a pencil and wrote, ‘My name is Butch’ in big letters. I wanted to make sure she was working on the right patient. And she was very apologetic.”
Jones went out of critical care to a room on the post-surgery floor for a week.
“The surgery was on Tuesday (March 23), and I got out of bed on Wednesday. They wanted me to stand up (with the help of a walker).
Kristi Jones and her brothers Brett and Ryan came down, along with Lindsay (“Everybody’s BFF”) Hildreth and spent Saturday night.
“Then we went to TCCU the next week, and remained there for another three weeks, and all the time I was down there Julie was, and we rented an apartment that was hospital-subsidized right across from the hospital.”
There were some kidney complications at first, and “ ... that was the scariest time for me,” Watts said.
“And then they started working just fine,” Jones added.
“I was number 399 at California Pacific since Ernie’s (Dr. Ernest Haeusslein, who Jones hopes will make it to the benefit Friday night at the Montague Community Hall as the guest of honor) program started in 1982, and within a week they had done two more transplants.”
Jones is still making a lot of trips down to the Bay Area for checkups, biopsies, etc..
“There’s a whole heart transplant team in San Francisco that you work with – a social worker, a psychiatrist, a dietician, a pain specialist, a physical therapist, a transplant coordinator ...
“You go through a clinic and you fill out a questionnaire with questions like, ‘How far can you walk up a hill?’ and I wrote ‘Half a mile,’ and they said, ‘How come?’ and I said, ‘Ran out of hill.’”
There was one scary sign of rejection.
“That was in August, so they increased my anti-rejection medicines, then they tapered off again and there hasn’t been a problem since,” he said.
“One of the minor things to work through is that my new heart is not connected to my nervous system,” he continued. “They can’t do that because they can’t reconnect nerves. So I can never have heart pain,” he said, and turned to his partner. “So you can never hurt my heart.”
Joking aside, Jones would not be able to feel another heart attack. To help prevent that possibility, and to deal with any number of related issues, Jones is on a number of medications for life.
He pulled a list out of his wallet. “There’s 18 of them here,” he said.
Although Jones has good insurance, there are still all kinds of costs borne by him. “There are trips to San Francisco, eating out of an ice chest, and co-pays for meds – but they’re do-or-die, and you have to have them.”
Hence the Friday night benefit to help offset Jones’ mounting expenses. “It’s kind of embarrassing to have to go for help like this,” he said. “It’s easier to give than receive.”
“I’m just overwhelmed at the support and the prayers I’ve received from everyone. I’ve been so blessed. This community is one of a kind.”
And how is he feeling now? “Wonderful, wonderful, I can feel blood pulse in places where I hadn’t felt it for a long time.”
And he couldn’t resist one more joke.
He said he met partner Watts on the Internet in June of 2009. “It was a free site. I have told her that if she would have used a more expensive site, she would have found a healthier guy.”
CPMC Heart and Vascular Center
California Pacific's Heart and Vascular Center is supported by one of the best heart hospital/center networks in the USA, offering quality, comprehensive patient-centered cardiovascular care by a team of top heart surgeons and physicians with leading-edge technology. Serving the entire San Francisco Bay Area, including San Francisco and Marin County, as well as the entire Northern California region, our team has many of the best cardiovascular surgeons and physicians in California and the United States.
(Photo courtesy of Julie Watts)