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37 And Waiting For A Heart: He Builds Cars With Bedpans and Syringes

He’d just finished a heavy meal at an all-you-can-eat buffet. The kind of smorgasbord built for a big guy like him -- meatloaf and carved beef, a taco bar and fried chicken.

But on the way home from that meal in 2012, Jeremy Carr started to feel short of breath. By the time he got to his home in Avon, he couldn’t breathe.

He must have just overeaten at that buffet, he thought, really overdone it.

But as the night wore on, Carr couldn’t go to sleep. Every time he lay down, he felt like he was drowning.

So, in the quiet darkness that night, he sat up in a chair. All night long until morning, he sat wondering what was happening to him. As the sun came up, Carr decided something just wasn’t right. No, something was really wrong.

At the hospital, Carr was hooked up to machines. The doctor walked out of the room – and then back in. The rest of what happened is a blur.

Your heart is working at 8 percent.

We don’t know how you walked into the hospital.

We don’t know how you are even talking. Your heart is failing.

“I was like, ‘What? No, you’ve got to be wrong,’” says Carr, an auto mechanic and father of two. “‘This can’t be happening to me.’”

***

It’s been 106 days. Nearly four months.

That’s how long Carr, 37, has been cooped up in a hospital room at IU Health Methodist Hospital, waiting on a new heart.

He is hooked up to two medicines that are, literally, his lifeline. If he leaves the hospital, he dies.

Since the day of his heart failure diagnosis in 2012, Carr has received an LVAD, a left ventricular assist device. It’s used in patients with advanced heart failure whose heart can’t pump enough blood to the rest of the body.

Carr got the LVAD in 2014 and did pretty well with it. He even went back to work and opened a business, C&J Automotive in Indianapolis. But, by September of 2017, his health took a turn for the worse.

37 And Waiting For A Heart: He Builds Cars With Bedpans and Syringes

There were no other options left for him, except to get on the transplant list – and get a new heart. 

And so Carr sits here day after day after day, waiting for that heart. But, instead of feeling sorry for himself, he is doing something remarkable.

He is crafting model cars and trucks and motorcycles, creating miniature automotive masterpieces using items he finds in the hospital.  

Syringes. Bed pans. Pen caps made into nitrous bottles. Gauze. Pop cans cut and molded into rims. Surgical tubes. Dressing pads used as foam in seats. Eyeglass cleaner cloth for seat covers. Parts of a medicine bin.

The detail of the cars is incredible.

Since being admitted to Methodist in September, Carr has built more than 10 models. There is the neon green Camaro, the 1980 Trans Am, the 1984 Cutlass Hurst/Olds, the 1957 Chevy, the 1964, 1965, 1966 and 1967 Chevy Impalas and the 1956 Ford truck.

Right now, Carr is building a freightliner semi tow truck.

“Building these, it makes me feel like I’m back home,” says Carr. “That’s where I want to be. It’s what I’m striving for.”

***

 Model cars are a comfort, a flashback to better times in Carr’s life.

Carr’s grandma introduced him to the craft at age 8. He would stay with her on the weekends and she would give him model kits to keep him occupied.

He quickly became enamored with the hobby. His grandma would take him on midnight trips to the store and he would ask for another model. His grandma would say yes. 

By the time he was 17, he had 120 finished models displayed in his room. In his lifetime, Carr guesses he’s built more than 1,000 cars.

But these models crafted in the hospital are something entirely different. He uses a standard kit, but then finds ways to enhance them, change them up.

“It is supposed to look like something totally different,” says Jennifer Johnson, Carr’s girlfriend and mother to his children. “He adds his own touches."

And they are something that makes him stand out among Methodist staff – the patient with the tool bag next to his bed.

Carr says his IU Health heart transplant surgeon Thomas Wozniak, M.D., wants Carr to build him an El Camino. Nurses have helped him find supplies. They have helped him transport his cars to be spray painted in a closed off room.

This hobby at Methodist keeps him going, Carr says. After all, he spent Thanksgiving and Christmas in that tiny room. It’s hard for his 19-year-old son Austin and 13-year-old daughter Jaden to see their dad this way. He has watched as his children visit and leave with tears in their eyes.

“We prepared ourselves for the long journey into this room,” Johnson says. “And now we’re waiting.”

Waiting. Any day Carr could get a heart.

But the cars, they are a bit of a bright spot to family and friends who visit him.  

Instead of focusing on the wait, the failing heart, when a new one might come, they talk about the cars.

And that is good.

-- By Dana Benbow, Senior Journalist at IU Health.

   Reach Benbow via email dbenbow@iuhealth.org or on Twitter @danabenbow.


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