Organ recipient urges others to donate
Kendall Harvey’s life was saved five years ago by someone who volunteered to be an organ donor.
Mr Harvey, who had chronic heart failure and urgently needed a heart transplant, wants to encourage others to give the gift of life.
The 66-year-old retired teacher said: “I have had five years that weren’t promised to me. I got married and I finished teaching only because of the donor. My life was saved because someone had the foresight to donate an organ.”
He added: “It’s easy. When you get your licence renewed, just say you want to be a donor and tell your family so they know that it’s OK.
Mr Harvey, of Southampton, was speaking as Bermuda marks Organ Donor Week, but he is no stranger to sharing his story.
Since he retired from teaching art at TN Tatem Middle School in 2015, Mr Harvey has run Heart to Heart Taxi & Tours.
The back of his business card reads: “Save a life. Become an organ donor. Someone saved mine.”
Mr Harvey said: “I am proud to be a recipient. I tell everybody that comes in my taxi. People are just amazed. They say, ‘it’s the first time I ever talked to a transplant patient’.
“A couple of people have said ‘as soon as I get back, I’m going to become a donor’.
“That was probably what was meant, what God wanted me to do, to just spread the word that it’s OK, you’ll be fine.”
Mr Harvey had his heart transplant at Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore on January 1, 2013.
He had suffered problems with his heart before and was fitted with a pacemaker in 2009 after he started having trouble walking and climbing stairs at the school.
Mr Harvey said doctors believed chemotherapy he received for colon cancer in 2000 may have been the cause.
He fell ill again in 2012 with the same symptoms and said: “I had no energy, difficulty breathing and tiredness.”
He was dating Tina Evans, now his wife, at the time and she could see his health deteriorate.
Doctors thought the problem was with his lungs but Mr Harvey, sure it was his heart, went to the emergency department at the King Edward VII Memorial Hospital.
He was told he had chronic heart failure — his heart was functioning at 15 per cent.
Mr Harvey said: “You need 65 per cent to live. I was in bad shape.”
He was airlifted to Johns Hopkins Hospital a day later, accompanied by Ms Evans.
Ms Evans, who has experience with organ donation through work with donor programmes in the US, said: “They clearly said he got there right in time.”
Mr Harvey was given medication to revive him but it could not keep him alive — he needed a transplant.
He was admitted to hospital in November and put on the waiting list.
A balloon was inserted into his heart to open an artery and keep his blood flowing, leaving him bedridden.
Ms Evans visited him twice in the run-up to Christmas. She said he remained in good spirits despite the ordeal.
She added: “This man was dying but he was so positive. He just believed God was not through with him. He remains one of the strongest and most positive men I know.”
Mr Harvey added: “I had no fear. I just knew I was going to be OK.”
They celebrated New Year’s Eve together and during breakfast on New Year’s Day, they were told that a heart had been found.
Mr Harvey went in for surgery that day. The moment he regained consciousness, he asked for Ms Evans.
He said he felt better almost instantly.
Mr Harvey added: “Every day I got stronger. I was weak and I had lost a lot of weight. I went down to 156lbs and I’m a big guy, I’m 6ft 1in.”
Mr Harvey left the hospital later that month but stayed in Baltimore until March 2014 in case there were any complications and to undergo physiotherapy.
He said: “The hardest part was making your brain understand that your body is not the same any more — you will get there but it will take time.”
Mr Harvey now has to take medication every day and watch his diet. But he feels “back to normal”.
He said: “I have had five great years and that I am thankful for.”
Mr Harvey and Ms Evans married in September 2016 and the anonymous organ donor and staff at Johns Hopkins got a special mention in their wedding programme.
Ms Evans said: “If it wasn’t for someone in the most difficult time to see beyond their grief to be able to give a loved one’s organs so that somebody else can live, he wouldn’t be here today.
“It’s a very altruistic thing to do. We are humbled and for ever grateful.”