Joseph Parker, pastor of David Chapel Missionary Baptist Church, in Austin, received a heart transplant on Jan. 23, 2013, following more than ten years of heart issues. Two weeks ago, he was able to meet the family of the donor who saved his life. He shared his story with the Executive Board during their meeting on Monday, Feb. 24.
One of the nurses asked when the doctor came into my room, “Where was the heart from?” The surgeon said, “Not far, I just need to go get it.” The only thing I knew was that there had been some vehicular accident that lead to the death of my donor.
So I received that new heart and went through cardiac rehab and was out of the pulpit from November until May 2013. I went back to the church, then back to the pulpit the first Sunday in May. A month or two after that, I received a letter from the mother of my donor who then revealed to me his first name, described the accident, told me about his family, told me something about him, his name was William Darrell Jones from Luling, Texas. I actually didn’t get the whole name until more recently.
He had been a coach at the Luling High School. He was a UT fan, well liked and had two daughters that survived him, a mother, a sister who was a firefighter, a younger brother who was a coach and science teacher, as was he. I could tell from other things she said in the letter that she wanted some contact with me. It was not until the first part of January that I responded. I wrote a letter, actually typed up a letter and told her basically what I am telling you, I wanted her to know how I got to where I was. I gave my first name, which is all we could do. I told her my background, who I was. I told her what I had been able to experience since then, that is my first grandchild, 61st birthday, 21st year pastor. Those were things I could not have had experienced, if I had not received Darrell’s heart.
When I took the letter to the transplant center, which was the goal between, I found a Christmas card that was waiting for me from the family. And it was in that Christmas card that some other notes were written and they had given me all the names of the people.
In my previous letter I said to her, I was open to meeting them. I called two weeks ago. We had been provided each other’s phone numbers and names. She was walking/jogging. I told her this was Joseph Parker the recipient of your son’s heart. So we talked and we cried, we had a good conversation. In the midst of that she said, “I guess I need to let the cat out of the bag.” And I said, “What do you mean?“
She said, “We were planning to come and surprise you the first Sunday in February. But we found out when we called your staff that you weren’t preaching. Then the next Sunday it was too cold then third Sunday we couldn’t make it. We are planning to come and worship with you on the 23rd.“
I told her she was welcome to come. I would look forward to seeing her and hugging her.
And so she came, her name is Carolyn Frank Reed, from Luling. Her daughter came, Toni Jones, Austin firefighter, the young man who gave his eulogy came, and my social worker that has been with me since before the surgery came.
I changed my order of service yesterday because I knew if I said anything to them before I preached then I wouldn’t be preaching. So I moved our visitation of guests to the back and started off saying to the congregation that I had special guests here today. I had already told my congregation the Sunday before to expect them. So people were there, curiosity seekers were there. About 40-50 of our children and teenagers asked to be brought over from their church setting to experience it.
They had seen me cry many times, but they probably wanted to see me cry again.
They came in, gave them a special place to sit and I preached my sermon. We just finished a 21-day fast. I preached on, “Now See God work”.
I finished the sermon and at the end, I spoke about God being amazing. That then led me to leave the pulpit and go down and embrace her. And we cried. The whole church cried. I said to them, this is my first time laying eyes on her; I had never seen them before. The church gathered and formed a greeting line. They told them how grateful they were for being willing to donate his heart to me. Three other people received organs from his body as well. He was not a donor. His family made the decision to give his organs after his death.
So we were standing around talking, I had to catch a plane to come here yesterday, while we were talking, we were hugging and embracing. She wanted to lean her head on my chest and then she said, “I’m leaning my head on your chest because I want to hear Darrell’s heart.“
I said to her something I wrote in my letter. “People have been somewhat amazed at my recovery. The strength of Darrell’s heart has become the strength of my life.” We were crying and talking.
Then she brought me photographs of Darrell, a copy of his funeral; she wanted me to see him interacting with his daughters, pictures of him over the years with his brother and sister. His brother, I was told was not able to handle this gathering, so he didn’t come.
Then his sister looked at me and said, “Could I ask you a strange question?” And I said sure. Then she said, “Can I touch your heart?“
I said not only can you touch it; you can put your ear on it. So she came and cried again and she looked up at me and said, “While you were preaching all I could think about was Darrell’s heart is living in him.“
Then I said to the mother after it dawned on me last week, that part of you is now in me, you and I are connected forever.
While we were talking she said that she was grateful a preacher had gotten Darrell’s heart; she was a member of Central Baptist Church in Luling. She had some how found a photo of me and was carrying around the photo of me to people
I’m trying to be calm because the doctors now have told me my life was only supposed to last a few weeks. And that’s why they had to get me a heart because my blood type is O, my height/body size was difficult to match. So that put me at the top of the list. Although Darrell was 5’11; I’m 6’3. At the time I was 250, I am 230 now, I had to have his heart.
And I will say this last thing, I was talking with his mother about how I was scheduled for a VAD surgery (Ventricular Assistance Device) mechanical that would fit outside, but because of my heart condition, I was going to have to have two placed on me. My surgeon came in and the doctor said to me, “your heart has quieted.”
This was about two days before the surgery. He said, “We have decided not to give you that surgery, we are going to hold off, but if your defibrillator acts up then we will immediately take you.“
I was talking to her because she wanted to know some background on some things.
I said to her, then describe the day I was told about having a heart and she said, “God knew. He held you up from having the VAD surgery because He knew Darrell was coming for you.“
I stood there in amazement, listening to a woman who obviously is a woman of faith who was able to see this and say to me, “Because, if it had been Darrell, I would have wanted someone else to give their son’s heart up for him.“
I’m here tonight, just grateful. It was a tough day but it was a good day.
And my church now knows that miracles don’t just happen in the Bible.
Click here to listen to Joseph Parker’s testimony.