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Ming marks 20 years since heart transplant

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One of Bermuda's first heart transplant recipients crossed a major milestone this week.

Twenty years ago, on April 4,1993, Calvin Ming Jr was given a new lease on life when he became the second Bermudian to receive a new heart at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center.

Hardly a day goes by that he doesn't think of his heart donor, a 19-year-old male athlete high diver whose family looked beyond their tragedy to save another life.

Mr Ming, who turned 65 on December 5, sat down with his wife Juanita and

The Royal Gazette to recall the dark days of congestive heart disease that threatened his survival.

Beyond the medical challenges, they both attribute their strength through it all to a strong faith and trust in God in a marriage of 42 years. Mr Ming emerged with key lessons he learned by his experience that ended with a $1.4 million dollar medical bill.

Next to faith he said the second most important lesson is the true value of family.

“My family has been critical to my recovery,” Mr Ming said. “When I was being operated on I died several times. It was family out in that waiting room who were on their knees praying for me to pull through. And then it is the value of giving back to the community,” said Mr Ming.

“This community has done a lot for me in providing the telethon and funds; they also funded my cardio rehabilitation after the surgery. That went on for six months.

“When I returned to Bermuda it was another year of me getting back, they really didn't expect for me to work again. They gave me about five to eight good years and said not much would happen after that.

“Every day that I wake up it's a blessing, the other thing is don't limit yourself. Don't limit yourself to sitting back on the couch and twiddling your thumbs. If I had just laid back and accepted what doctors said, I probably wouldn't be here today.

“When I think about my donor I was blessed with a perfect heart and I never rejected it, although I had to take immune drugs to make sure and that also lowers your immune system.”

The immune suppressant medication took a severe toll on his kidneys, which started to fail six years ago. Eventually he needed a kidney transplant operation.

Several family members were tested but failed to match when Mr Ming's son decided his father had waited long enough and donated his kidney for the transplant. The successful operation was performed two years ago at Brigham and Women's Hospital.

Said Mr Ming: “Before the second transplant I was on dialysis for a while, my son offered to do it right away but I didn't want him to, but he overruled me and thank God he did.”

Ms Ming recalled the day they received word that a heart donor was found.

“It was a life-changing situation, to see him so very, very sick. When it first began we were on holiday in Florida when he took ill, that was the beginning of his congestive heart failure.

“They told us he would need a transplant and it was stressful knowing that he came home from that trip and returned to work; we knew that if he didn't get a heart that was it.

“Just waiting was very stressful and it was two months when we got the call, while in the US for another medical evaluation,” she said.

“I was at the hairdresser with my mother-in-law and two daughters at the time, we dropped everything and told the beautician we had to go straight to the hospital. They prepared him for surgery and we got to see him before he went in.”

It would be many hours before the surgical team emerged to confirm the transplant was a success.

Mr Ming recalled how he was in the hospital room with Bermuda's first heart transplant recipient Wayne Hollis and his older brother Melvin when he heard a donor was found.

“I had all these contraptions on me but I wanted to leap out of bed to praise the Lord. Mr Hollis has passed away since then.

“I'm one of only three people left who had the same surgery in Pittsburgh around the same time that I did.”

@$:Ms Ming recently joined her husband in retirement to enjoy family living with three adult children and five grandchildren.

Asked for his take on life today, he smiled and said: “Don't ever take life for granted.

“If you have the strength to do something go ahead and do it because you never know if you'll have another chance. I live each day like today is my last.

“I've only got today so I've got to do my best, tomorrow is promised to no one,” he said. But he admits there were times when he questioned his faith along the way.

“Being human, I had some arguments with God while sitting up in the hospital at 2am, I was mad at times, really angry. The nurses would ask me who I was talking to and I'd tell them I was talking to God.

“My faith was tested but I know that everybody has to go through the valley in order to get to the mountains,” said Mr Ming.

And he continues to reach those mountains with every heartbeat today, one day at a time.

Faith in God: Salvation Army stalwart Cal Ming and his wife, Juanita. Mr Ming is celebrating, having had a heart transplant 20 years ago (Photo by Akil Simmons)
Cal Ming: In the hospital 20 years ago
Cal Ming celebrated his 20-year anniversary this week after having his heart transplant. (Photo by Akil Simmons)
Documentary made an impact

Twenty years ago, shortly after the heart transplant operation, I had the pleasure of joining the Ming family in Pittsburgh to film a television documentary on Cal Ming's recovery.

It's hard to imagine 20 years have passed since then, but Mr Ming recalled the filming during his painful recovery like it was yesterday.

“I remember I was also the subject of your first television documentary, Ceola, but I think what you did was much bigger than my story,” said Mr Ming.

“You brought the community into this because this has been a community journey. And you were able to bring Bermuda in to witness and feel a part of it which was very important because the community has been one of the huge supports. If you remember the entire community came together in prayer and donations.”

At the end of it all the Ming family was left with a $1.4 million medical bill. Fortunately $800,000 was covered by insurance, the rest came from the community through donations.

A telethon was held to raise funds to help pay off the bill and help carry the family financially during Mr Ming's lengthy recovery.

Mr Ming smiled as he recalled the bill “was paid off in full in a few years”.

But he insisted the documentary “put a face behind the story and made the whole community a part of it.

“After making donations they were able to see the results of the community coming together and that to me is very important,” he said.

The Mings have three children, Carol McDowall, Dr Carla Ming-Reese and Calvin Ming III, and five grandchildren.

Carol and husband Andrew McDowall have two boys, Andrew (13) and Caleb (nine). Her sister Carla and husband Kelvin Reese have one son, Grant who is three years old. And Calvin has two daughters, Alayah who is 11 and four-year-old Ayuri.

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Published April 06, 2013 at 8:00 am (Updated April 06, 2013 at 8:33 am)

Ming marks 20 years since heart transplant

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