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Schoolchildren send cards and letters to “Grandma Linda” after her double lung transplant at Methodist Hospital. Now they’re sending letters and pictures to team members amid the COVID-19 outbreak.
By Maureen Gilmer, IU Health senior journalist, firstname.lastname@example.org
When Linda Chastain was a patient on 7 North at IU Health Methodist Hospital last year recovering from a double lung transplant, she had a big window that overlooked the hospital’s front circular drive.
But the only view that mattered to her was what was plastered all over that window – heart-felt cards and precious pictures of love and encouragement from school kids in Ohio.
Those students – all classmates of Chastain’s grandchildren – were inspired by their teachers to write letters to “Grandma Linda” after hearing about her lung transplant.
Chastain was blown away, as were her nurses and pre-transplant coordinator Ken Lemler. Her care team would stop in her room frequently to look at the cards and drawings, just to get a little pick-me-up.
The longtime surgical nurse at IU Health Ball Memorial Hospital was diagnosed with idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis several years ago and was forced to go on disability in 2014.
The weeks and months leading up to her transplant were stressful times for her family, including husband Curtis and three adult children, Todd, Jessica and Tyson. But in the 14 months since her transplant, they have become strong advocates for organ donation and the transplant team at Methodist.
That leads us right into another delivery of cards and letters, which were presented a few days ago to team members and even a few patients on the cardiovascular critical care unit and 7 North, where transplant patients recover after surgery.
Eleven-year-old Hayden Saad, whose mom, Jessica, is Chastain’s daughter, gathered the cards as part of his fifth-grade exhibition project, Organ Transplant/Donor Awareness, for his school near Columbus, Ohio.
Even before the COVID-19 crisis, he knew all about social distancing, proper hand hygiene, disinfectants and face masks because his grandmother’s health as a transplant recipient depended on those preventive measures.
“When my son heard that medical staff were social distancing from their own families to take care of others and how patients could not have visitors (during the pandemic), he decided his action for his exhibition would be to send letters,” Jessica Saad said. “He knew how much that act of kindness helped his grandma.”
The gesture meant a lot to the Methodist clinicians who were on the receiving end this week, Lemler said. “It’s one thing to get a paycheck, but it’s so much better to have somebody give you support and love and appreciate the work you do.”
When he shared the pictures of team members holding the letters with Hayden’s mom, she was moved to tears.
“I will never forget what they did for my family last year,” Jessica said. “They gave me my mom back, and my children their grandmother. What they do every day for others is selfless. It moved me to see what my son was inspired to do for them.”
Her brother Tyson Chastain wrote a letter of appreciation to the Methodist transplant team last year, which included the following:
“Mom is in better shape than she has ever been. … this opportunity would not exist without the support of all of you individually and as an organization. Your kind gestures, your organization, healthcare acumen, a hug here and there … got her to this place. Many people in the healthcare system don’t realize what it takes to have a program like transplant. We do!”
HOW DO YOU SAY THANK YOU?
Chastain is now trying to find the words to thank her donor’s family for the “precious gift” they gave her. Once written, her letter will be sent to the Indiana Donor Network to be forwarded to the family when the time is right.
The Chastain family’s passion for spreading the word about organ donation is wonderful to see, Lemler said. Early on, the concept was understandably frightening and the intensive care unit experience was overwhelming for her children, but they’ve been thrilled to see her progress.
“A double lung transplant is no joke, and I actually really worried about us even going through the process,” Jessica said. “But mom’s attitude from the day she signed those papers was she was going to do this. She had that will to live for all of us.”
Chastain has thrived since her transplant. The 68-year-old Muncie resident stays fit and loves to keep in touch with her grandchildren, even though they haven’t been able to visit lately.
Last summer, she made the trip to Ohio to meet Hayden’s travel baseball team. The players wore ball caps and jerseys sporting green ribbons in honor of organ donation. They even presented her with a jersey all her own.
In August, she and members of her family joined IU Health employees on an organ donor awareness walk on the Downtown Canal.
And this past February, one year after her transplant, she welcomed her 10th grandchild into the world. The little girl is named Lillian Linda for her grandmother.
“I wouldn’t have been here to meet her if not for my transplant,” Chastain said. “What a difference a year makes.”