Just in the nick of life - Word&Way

Just in the nick of life

My phone beeped as I drove from St. Louis to my home in Jefferson City, Mo., late Tuesday (March 5) afternoon. I checked the message when I pulled over to refill my gas tank and discovered long-awaited news – good news. It was from my brother, Randy.

Craig Fields, longtime senior pastor of Jefferson Avenue Baptist Church in Springfield, Mo., who was high on the list for a second lung transplant should a set become available, might be entering transplant surgery soon. A set of lungs was available and – pending tests to determine compatibility – could be the match for which Craig and his family had been anxiously awaiting.

Shortly after that, I received another message confirming the lungs were indeed a match for Craig, and that the surgery would begin the same evening.

I recall when I met Craig. It was back when his parents and siblings moved to our hometown of Mt. Vernon, Ill., along with an influx of others when the new General Tire plant prepared for opening. Craig’s parents and their family became members – active members – of our home church, Park Avenue Baptist.

Craig and my brother – similar in age – became fast friends and remain so.

A few years ago, Craig developed the same lung condition that several years before had taken his mother’s life. As his condition worsened, he was placed on the transplant list then and received donated lungs just in the nick of time. But in the past several months, it became obvious that these lungs would need to be replaced, too, if he were to survive.

Around the Christmas holidays, Craig was hospitalized, analyzed and treated across the state at Barnes-Jewish Hospital in St. Louis. The prognosis then was that he would not leave St. Louis alive without another transplant. He and his wife, Annette, knew this would mean securing an apartment adjacent to Barnes, doing regular exams and waiting. A viral infection was treated successfully and he was cleared for transplant eligibility.

When Tuesday’s call came, the entire family was cautiously elated. Craig and Annette have three married sons – David, Doug and Brandon – who have the couple’s nine grandchildren among them.

Craig went into surgery at 1 a.m. today, and the first lung had been transplanted and was working nicely by 3:45 a.m. The other transplant and the surgery would be completed by 6:30 a.m. When surgeons emerged, they reported no complications and a smooth surgery. That was aided because scar tissue from the original transplant was limited.

As I write, the family is encouraging friends to continue praying that Craig’s body will not reject the new lungs. Physicians are very optimistic. Without the transplant, Craig stood no chance of survival.

Craig will have been the senior pastor at Jefferson Avenue for 19 years this coming November. He and Annette cannot say enough about the congregation’s understanding, patience and care as they have faced uncertain and difficult times with his health concerns.

Take a moment to give thanks on this family’s behalf and pray for a good recovery.

Be sure and pray as well for the family of the lung donor in their grief. They made a wonderful decision to give life to another person even in the midst of their own loss. They gave life just in the nick of time.

We all face death. Every person and family should anticipate the potential of making live-saving decisions for others at the end of their own time on earth. Now the Fields family is grateful for the generous kindness of two such families.