ST. JOHN’S, N.L. — Terry White of Princeton can’t remember much about the conversation that took place after a doctor walked into his hospital room in Ottawa and told him that a heart had become available. Nor can he recall those few moments without wiping tears from his eyes.
“A doctor that I never seen before came in. He told me he had a heart for me. He told me how he was going to do (the surgery). But, I never heard a thing after he said he had a heart for me,” the 44-year-old said during an interview at a quiet coffee shop in St. John’s.
White was diagnosed with congestive heart failure at age 25 while working in Alberta. The diagnosis came after his flu-like symptoms worsened rather than improved.
Initially treated for pneumonia, when a second X-Ray revealed that his heart was enlarged, White was rushed to a hospital in Edmonton where doctors removed fluid from his heart.
White and his wife at the time moved back to Newfoundland with their new baby.
They lived in Princeton for a couple of years before moving to the St. John’s area.
Under the care of a cardiologist from this province, White’s health improved. He returned to work.
His health was good for several years but at age 30, things went downhill again.
White suffered two consecutive strokes – the second one left him with paralysis on the right side of his body.
He spent over a year in rehabilitation, learning to do things most people take for granted.
“I had to learn how to walk, how to write. Thank God for the physiotherapists at the Miller Centre,” he said. “It was hard, sometimes, but they wouldn’t let me give up.”
Nor would the community give up on him.
Family and friends held various fundraisers while he was off work, he said.
“That took so much off my mind until I got back to work.”
After the stroke, White had a pacemaker installed and returned to work in the construction industry.
Things were good again, he said, until about age 39 or 40 when he got a call from the hospital saying his pacemaker was alerting staff to problems.
He would then need to go to the hospital to get his medications adjusted.
“That worked for a little while,” White said. “I was working every day.”
However, he said, the time soon came when he began to feel exhausted.
In June 2016, White collapsed at home and was taken by ambulance to the Health Sciences Centre.
“I went out cold and I woke up with a breathing tube in... they asked me if I knew who I was. I said ‘Yes.’ Then they asked me if I knew where I was to. I said, ‘Yes, I’m in hospital,” he recalled. “They said, ‘Yes, you are in hospital in Ottawa.”
It had been two weeks since his collapse. In critical condition at the time, he had no idea he’d been airlifted out-of-province.
White remained in hospital in Ottawa for months, a mechanical pump keeping his heart beating.
“Without that pump I would have been dead.”
A few steps
It took months for White to get back on his feet. To walk a few steps was a great accomplishment. Determined to get well, his walks around the hospital ward increased over time.
However, his condition worsened and he was moved up on the transplant wait list.
When told a heart had become available, White said, he wasn’t nervous about the surgery.
He knew it was his only chance at a future.
“Just being in hospital - waiting, day after day,” he said, looking down at the table, while trying to control his emotions.
White underwent his transplant in November 2016.
He continues to face serious medical issues (one of which is bowel related) which keep him from being able to work.
White has agreed to tell his story in order to thank family, friends and strangers who contributed to various fundraisers held on his behalf including a recent golf tournament hosted by the owners of The View (Barry Stuber) in Princeton.
“All my family and my friends done so much for me,” he said. “And there are people, a lot of them I’ve never met in my life. I could walk right in front of them. They wouldn’t know me and I wouldn’t know them.
“I’d just like to say thanks to everyone. Knowing you got so many people behind you, helps you push through it all.”
White may still be down, but he is definitely not out.
“Hopefully, I’ll be back swinging a hammer again one of these days,” he said.