Bishop Jeff Terry's long, anxious wait is happily over.
Following two years of uncertainty while awaiting a new heart, Terry successfully underwent heart transplant surgery January 7 at the Sacred Heart Medical Center in Spokane, Washington. He is making a slow recovery, but his long-term prognosis remains good, said Mary Koch, editor of the Inland Episcopalian, the diocesan newspaper. Terry continues to require a ventilator to help him breathe. He remains in the hospital's cardiac intensive care unit and visitors are limited to the bishop's immediate family.
Doctors have told Terry's wife, Carolyn, that "this is not a life-and-death concern, but it does indicate that recovery will be slow," Koch said. "It also means that his life right now is difficult for him." Still, flashes of the bishop's signature humor have come through. Though not able to speak, Terry did give his wife a "thumb's up" sign through the ventilator, Koch reported. Carolyn Terry, who has become an advocate for the cause of organ transplants, has kept the diocese informed through an Internet diocesan chat group. "Jeff's old heart was very fragile and definitely ready to be replaced," she wrote in one of the first messages. "The new heart is good and relatively young."
Later, Carolyn Terry recounted the joy of discovering for herself that the new heart was working well. "I felt his feet this morning, and for the first time in four or five years, I was holding a warm, toasty foot and toes," she said several days after the surgery. "The new heart is really doing its thing and getting the circulation out to the furthest extremities." Through the chat group, Carolyn Terry has also helped direct prayer for her husband-whether it be for his kidneys, his lungs or for hopes that he can escape the worst side effects of drugs during what is expected to be a long recovery. "Pray for Jeff's kidneys," she said. "So far they are performing better than expected. Pray that he escapes the worst side effects of the drugs he needs to survive."
In turn, the Terrys have received numerous messages of support through the chat group. "I was very aware this morning, sitting in the room alone with Jeff, that we were surrounded by your love and prayers," Carolyn Terry wrote three days after the surgery. In her January 25 report, Carolyn Terry said that a complete cat scan revealed that "everything in Jeff's body other than his lungs looks good. The bad news is that his lungs look very sick which is not totally new news." Various treatments are now being tried to help his lungs. "It is all so very slow and trying," her message concluded. "So I continue to hope and pray as I know you do. Your messages are very comforting and I keep holding on to the stories of other transplant patients who have walked this walk and walked out of the hospital."
The two years of waiting for a new heart had not been easy on the Terrys, and were made even more frustrating in the weeks leading up to the surgery, when, at one point, the bishop was prepared for surgery, but the operation was cancelled.
Terry, a one-time runner, discovered he had heart problems in the early 1990s. In 1992, he had a pacemaker placed in his chest and continued his running regimen. Later it was discovered that Terry suffered from congestive heart disease, possibly from a virus. In 1995, he suffered from a severe case of arrhythmia of the heart, and up until his surgery, he had suffered from a seriously enlarged heart that was not pumping enough blood throughout his body.
In 1996 he was placed on a national waiting list for a new heart, but wasn't designated "Status One" until last fall, when it was clear that his enlarged heart wasn't supplying enough blood to his kidneys. In an interview last fall with ENS prior to his surgery, Terry said he had begun conducting diocesan business from the Sacred Heart Medical Center, including hosting an informal and long-established meeting with fellow Spokane religious leaders at the hospital cafeteria. Terry said despite attendant frustrations, the journey he had experienced while awaiting his transplant had taught him valuable lessons-one of them being the humbleness of knowing hundreds are praying for him.
"I've learned a lot, including the strength of the Christian community, and what it's like to have a network of people who care for you and love you," he said. "When hundreds are praying for you, you better understand that everyone is loved more than we realize, particularly by God." Updates on the bishop's condition are available on the diocesan web site: www.spokane.anglican.org
--Chris Herlinger is a freelance writer in New York and a stringer for Ecumenical News International. He is also the information officer for the Church World Service Emergency Response Program.