Joplin resident gets new heart after dash to St. Louis
The drive on I-44 from Joplin to St. Louis can be nerve-wracking anytime, but trying to make the drive in busy traffic in time to get a new heart can turn downright wild.
Daniel and Sharron Cogbill of Oronogo, Mo., made the drive March 13, 2006, trying to get to Barnes-Jewish Hospital in St. Louis so Daniel, 59, could have a heart transplant. Along the way, they encountered kind truckers, a sympathetic sheriff and some scary moments. But it was worth it for Daniel to get a second chance at life, said Sharron.
Daniel, who is retired from International Paper, had been on the waiting list for a transplant since August 2005. He had a triple bypass several years earlier, but his condition had deteriorated and he relied on pacemakers to keep his heartbeat steady.
“The pacemakers were what kept me going,” Daniel said.
A widower, he met Sharron online in September. Sharron, a widow, found that she and Daniel lived within 10 miles of each other and that she and her late husband had cleaned the church that Daniel and his late wife had attended. Love bloomed and the two were soon making wedding plans. But first, they wanted Daniel to get his transplant.
When Christmas came and went without a donor heart becoming available, the couple decided to go ahead with their wedding. They were married on Feb. 25, but put their honeymoon on hold.
Shortly after noon on March 13, the Cogbills got a call from Sharon Moorhead, their transplant coordinator, telling them Daniel was one of two candidates to match a donor heart that had become available. Moorhead told the Cogbills they should try to get to St. Louis by 5:30 p.m. so Daniel could be prepped for surgery if the heart matched.
The Cogbills were on the road by 1 p.m. with Daniel at the wheel.
Traffic on I-44 was hectic, the lanes clogged with 18-wheelers, said Sharron. She made a sign on a piece of paper, “In route to St. Louis for a heart transplant” and held it up for truckers and other motorists to see.
“Some of the truckers would see us with our flashers on and read the sign and they’d radio ahead as far as they could,” she said. “Trucks would see us coming and get out of the way.”
Truckers also had their back. When they stopped at a rest area to use the restroom, a trucker who was also stopped noticed their flashers and asked what was wrong. Sharron told him and the trucker followed directly behind them for miles, making sure they were safe.
At 3:45 p.m. Moorhead called the Cogbills on the road, telling them tests showed the heart was a perfect match for Daniel. It was now imperative that he be at the hospital by 5:30 p.m. to be prepped for surgery.
But about 28 miles outside of St. Louis, the Cogbills came upon an accident that blocked the highway. Desperate, they called Moorhead, who referred them to the local sheriff. The sheriff urged them to look for a state trooper at the scene and ask for an escort. One of the troopers at the scene told the Cogbills that the state highway patrol no longer provided escorts to emergency cases such as theirs.
The Cogbills talked to the sheriff again, who got their exact position – mile marker 253 – and called the local ambulance district, asking them to dispatch an ambulance. In minutes, the ambulance arrived, Daniel climbed in and the paramedics assured Sharron they’d take a shortcut, making it to Barnes-Jewish in plenty of time.
Sharron drove the Cogbills’ car to the Barnes-Jewish, hoping to make it to the hospital before her husband was wheeled into surgery. Arriving at the hospital in a panic, she parked out front, gave her keys to a security guard and ran up to intensive care unit where Daniel was to be prepped, only to find that he hadn’t arrived yet.
But moments later, Daniel turned up in a nearby waiting room, where the ambulance crew had mistakenly taken him.
After the whirlwind trek to the hospital, the transplant itself seemed like a snap. Dr. Nader Moazami, surgical director of heart transplant at Barnes-Jewish, transplanted the healthy heart and Daniel was rolled into ICU shortly after midnight.
He’s had a quick recovery so far, Sharron said. He was out of the ICU three days after surgery, off of oxygen and no episodes of rejection so far. Barring complications, he should be discharged from the hospital later this week. The Cogbills will remain in St. Louis for another week to monitor Daniel’s condition and fine tune his medication.
After that, the Cogbills plan a less eventful drive home and maybe even a honeymoon.
For additional information or to begin a transplant evaluation, call 888.202.6668.