Transplant

I have written about my sister Sharlie in the past (here and here), and she received a double lung and heart transplant over the weekend. To read more about her, and to follow her progress, visit Sharlie's Angels on Facebook. She has been an inspiration to me and so many others. There was a lot of down time this past weekend as we waited in the hospital while Sharlie underwent her surgeries and I had a chance to write some of my thoughts down, and while personal, I wanted to share them here in hopes that her story continues to inspire others. Thank you for reading.

I don't like hospitals. They are big, industrial, generic places, unfeeling, too clean, too many fluorescent lights, too much sickness, tired nurses, and bad memories. I dreaded going, but when I arrived at Sharlie's room, it was like a church, quiet, light and calm. I have spent many hours in hospital rooms with Sharlie, but none as important as Thursday. After a late night call and a frantic ride through the night from San Diego to Palo Alto, past swerving big rigs and methed up drivers drifting too close, pushing me to the shoulder, and too tired to correct as I listened to the hum of my wheels on the graded road.

Once at the hospital I found Sharlie's room, full of family and her high school friends. Suedy and Jessica, the same friends that have been there through the years, always bringing the party to Sharlie during her long hospital stays, making sure she never missed out on any of the junior high and high school fun. My mom was there along with my brother in law, Ryan, and everyone was smiling, calm, and waiting. Sharlie sat on the bed, soon to be wheeled down the hallway, to the operating room where her heart and lungs would be removed from her body and a stranger's organs put in their place. A family has made the decision to give this gift, the most generous gift of life to a complete stranger, and I hope they learn about Sharlie and her remarkable story and that it comforts them, because I know Sharlie will honor this gift as a living and breathing testament of gratitude.

I can still feel this hug.
Me, Sharlie, Mom, and Ryan. Pre-transplant.
Sharlie was the calmest person in the room.

The surgery went well. It was long, but there were no serious complications and after the final update from the surgeon, I had the urge to hug him, but I just clapped. It was all I could think to do for this artist.

The next morning we were told that there was internal bleeding and that Sharlie would have to undergo another surgery to stop the bleeding and remove the blood that had pooled beneath one of her lungs. It was another long procedure and as I sat in waiting room I noticed a mother and daughter, older, with matching red eyes and wrinkles being laid as they waited for a son or husband or brother. I would occasionally catch glances and we would look at each other, bonded by this waiting.

The doors to the various operating rooms would open loudly and doctors, nurses, orderlies, would walk through, all with the look of people going about their normal jobs as we wait with expectant eyes, searching for some sign, a smile, satisfaction, a worried look, anything to betray what is going on behind the heavy doors with signs and big red capital letters that screamed "no entry." These workers are used to the expectant waiting room looks and avoid eye contact, not wanting to give false hope, or hints of failure.

I walked the halls and looked at the art, most of it standard hospital art, landscapes, the sea, and flowers, but there was a series by a Russian artist, Ilya Kabakov called "The Flying Komarov" and this series was meaningful for me, or maybe I was just searching for some meaning. The series of drawings stretched down the hallway and the first few look like people jumping off buildings, but then as you continue down the long hallway, you see that the people are floating, flying, couples holding hands higher and higher, disappearing in the clouds.



That morning, they rolled Sharlie down the hall, machines, tubes, bandages everywhere, still under sedation, looking lifeless, bleeding near her lungs. The initial transplant went well and this was just one setback, and there will be more. This is going to be a long healing process, and Sharlie will need to fight, but she is strong. The previous evening the joy of the new organs and successful transplant rippled through the waiting room, but the reality is that there will be new issues, post transplant issues, and struggles as her body tries to make these foreign tissues, cells, muscles her own. I watched as my mom, my sister, and Sharlie's husband kissed her as they rolled her into another surgery. I don't like seeing her this way, sedated, unconscious. I need to see her soft smile, her calmness reassuring that everything is going to be good. Her faith, big enough for both of us.

Post-transplant.

It was beautiful out, sunny and cool, and I had to get away from sitting, from the lights of the hospital. I had to stretch my legs out, so I found some nice trails near Stanford in the Arastradero Preserve. I changed to running clothes in my truck, trying not to flash the van-load of senior citizens who had parked next to me. I followed a trail along a creek as it narrowed to shady single track and I ran as fast as I could, stretching my lungs out in some sort of glorious punishment.

Trail therapy



I left Saturday morning, but before the drive back to San Diego, I was able to spend a couple hours by Sharlie's side as she woke up from the cloud of anesthesia. Her eyes were brighter than the previous night, her skin was glowing and her breath was steady and deep. We talked that morning about the donor and how grateful and sad Sharlie was, and how in her mind and prayers she always used "she" when referring to her. We talked about the coming months, the healing and the strengthening and how for the first time in her life, she will be getting stronger. We talked about the challenges and bumps in the road that will require much strength and dedication, and I can't think of anyone who is better equipped to deal with and overcome the challenges. There were words said that morning that were so special to me, words that I will never have to write down; they are written in my heart.

Now, my heart is full with gratitude for so many people who have helped Sharlie on her journey. I am so grateful to the surgeons and the transplant team at Stanford, giving life, doing the work of gods. I am grateful that Sharlie will be staying in Los Altos for a while. It is a beautiful place with hundreds of miles of tree-covered trails and I can see her healing as she explores the area.

Before Sharlie went into surgery, my mom asked her what she wanted to do with her new lungs. She said, without hesitation, I want to run with Dax. And this piece hasn't been about running, but for me it has everything to do with running. When I picture Sharlie in my mind, I see her running, and as she was wheeled away for her transplant surgery and as I whispered be strong, I love you, you're amazing, you're my hero, and gave her a final hug, she whispered see you on the trails. And I do see her on the trails, smiling, stretching her lungs, laughing, racing her young son to the next tree, and dropping us all, her spirit dwarfing the giant redwoods.


55 comments:

  1. That post was beautiful, Dax and brought a lot of tears as I read it. You have a talent for writing and I'm just in awe with how strong, close and loving your family is. Thank you for sharing your sister with us!

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    1. Thank you Gina, and thank you for all of the kind messages throughout Sharlie's procedure.

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  2. Dax, I'm speechless. You have a gift. I know Shar can hold her own in the writing department, but I hope you continue to write her story. I love your perspective. Beautiful. I feel like I was there.

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    1. Thanks Dana. That is very kind of you. It's hard to open up and share these experiences, but reading about some of your experiences with your dad really showed me that it's okay to put yourself out there, so thank you.

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  3. I enjoyed reading your post. You are a strong special brother for Shar. Just want you to know I love you Dax. Praying for many years of running with Shar! What a fun thought!!! :-)

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    1. who is this anonymous "The Larsen Family"? Is this our alter ego speaking for the tribe? I am sure the culprit will come forward out of the shadows... and reveal him/herself.

      Anyhow, you are part of this large Larsen Family and as the oldest grandchild you hold a special place in the family tree... your roots run deep as does your writing and your soul... you are more like a brother to me in many ways Dax and I thank you for your gift of words in sharing this great reflection. Larsen Family just seems to keep getting bigger and larger....so many blessings to share and cherish.

      love to you Dax and your beautiful family... blessings to Sharlie

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  4. Dax, this is really truly beautiful. Thank you for sharing your perspective, and capturing so well the higher spirit that can be found in and given through running. Thinking of Sharlie and all the extended Ross family. -- Nikki Hart

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    1. Thanks Nikki. It is great to hear from you and I hope you are doing well.

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  5. Moved by your writing Dax. Sharlie has some champions in her life.

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  6. That brought tears to my eyes! Thanks for opening your heart and voice to let us experience this tender, sweet and difficult experience. I'm so proud of you! What a gift and support you are to your family. Love you!

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  7. Dax , you have a wonderful way with words , I read your blog with tears triggling down my cheeks , you all bring soo much perspective on life , I'm loving following Sharlie's journey and hope to one day meet you all .

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  8. Rachel Hayden-SmithFebruary 21, 2012 at 3:43 PM

    Absolutely beautiful Dax, you definitely had me in tears. I look forward to some more beautifully written posts about your adventures on the trails with Shar, the image and thought makes me smile and brings me pure joy xo

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    1. Thank you Rachel. Your family has been such a huge blessing to Sharlie. Thank you for all of your kind messages.

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  9. So real, so vulnerable, so much love and many tears of joy for your soulful shared experience. Blessings to you and your Dax..

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  10. Wow! Amazing. I am lost for words. Prayers and Blessings, What a write.
    Maggie and Jim Lancy

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  11. OMgosh Dax, you are a great writer! And an even better brother! ;) Just loved reading that. Thanks so much for sharing it!

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  12. You don't know me, but I am Jessica Mendioroz's aunt and have followed this "story" since my sister, Syndea, moved her family to Encinitas 25+ years ago. Thank you for your beautiful words. Scarlie has been in our prayers for many, many years and it has been a blessing to witness these miracles...even if we are hundreds of miles away.
    ~Lisa Arnold

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  13. Thank you for sharing something so personal, and yet so universal - the gift of life, the joy of life, and the Love of Life! I love your writing, so touching, inspirational and real. Thank you for your gift!

    USANA CEO Dave Wentz said at the Toronto XRC that we are the USANA Family, and the consultant said it's not right to think of your workers/clients/distributors as family. Dave said if that is not right, then he rather be wrong. What that boils down to is 'LOVE', the love we all get to share as a part of the USANA Family! With Love:)

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  14. I ran till my lungs burned in honor of this person I don't even know. Thanks for the reminder to be grateful for every day.

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  15. Dax this was what I've been waiting for! My mom and I have both said, we can't wait until Dax writes about his experience because you are so great with making us feel like we're right there experiencing such a powerful climax to Shar's life. Thanks for the great descriptions and emotions! You are a great brother and picturing you two running together is amazing! Happy belated birthday as well!! -ali

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    1. Thank you Ali. I know Sharlie can't wait for you to visit her again.

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  16. Dax, this is a beautiful account! Thank you for sharing such personal insights with us. You are a terrific big brother, and Sharlie is blessed by your support. I have been so blessed to experience just a tiny bit vicariously the miracle that has taken place. You and the whole family will continue to be in my prayers. XO

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  17. Dax, thank you for sharing your experience so beautifully. We have been glued to Facebook looking for updates, praying for a positive outcome for Sharlie. You are a terrific big brother, and it's obvious how much you and Sharlie love each other. You and the rest of your family will continue to be in my prayers. And thanks for letting us experience this miracle vicariously through your beautiful words. I look forward to the day that you and Sharlie run trails together. She'll leave more than a few in the dust...... In more ways than running!!!! XOXO

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  18. (Dax, I'm "mom" in the provious post. Sorry, that's how my google account was set up years ago. Syndea Mendioroz)

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    1. That's alright Syndea, you can be our surrogate mom.

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  19. Wow you sister has so much courage. I will say a pray for her recovery. I can tell you guys are going to have so much fun running together. Thanks for the reminder to be grateful for everything. :)

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  20. Thanks for sharing that Dax! This week i felt like i witnessed a miracle... You express yourself beautifully and inspire me to want to go run for Shar and show grattitude for my healthy body... Things we take for granted all too often. I can't wait for the next time I get to embrace Sharlie and ALL of the family... Life is a GIFT... Love you... Ur cuzzo Mel <3

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  21. Hi Dax. It's Katy. I am sitting here on a plane taking off from Bangkok to Chiang Mai with tears running down my face. I am wiping my nose with my scarf... Graphic but true. So much love. So much depth of heart. Thank you for sharing a part of you with me. We love you an your family so much. May every breath I take be conscious and full of gratitude.

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    1. Thank you Katy. I hope you have a good journey, and I know you are touching so many lives. We are having Derek, Meredith and her friends over for dinner tonight. I wish you and Palmer could be here as well, but I'm sure we will all get together soon. Love you.

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    2. Hi Dax. Thank you so much for sharing this beautiful and moving story. It puts us in the picture so when we send our love and best wishes we feel we are doing so from within the story, rather than from the opposite side of the earth. Thanks also for the photos of yourself and Sharlie. We never realised you were such a handsome fella! And Sharlie - despite all the tubes, trauma and discomfort, you still see her strength and inner peace. Our love and best wishes to you and all your family, especially Sharlie.

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  22. incredible! so thankful for the mystery organ donors out there who make stories like this possible. hope sharlie continues to heal, quickly!

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  23. Beautifully written, Dax. It never felt like we were bringing the party to her, it just felt like it wouldn't be the same (or half as fun) without her there. Thanks for capturing the feeling of the past few days so perfectly, and thank you for allowing us to be there with you all.

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  24. I've often wondered about your sister, but it seemed too intrusive to ask, so thank you so much for sharing your joy and underlying anxieties here.

    You've made me realise how special the gift of an organ donation is, not just to the recipient but to the whole family. I'm glad I'm on a donor list. Wishing Sharlee, you and your family a comfortable and speedy recovery with many happy times on the trails to come.

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    1. Dax, we don"t know each other, but I was Sharlie and Lexi's CF nurse years ago. They always spke so fondly of you and now I know why. I too had tears in my eyes reading your story. Thank you, It was so beautifully written

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  25. Beautifully written Dax! We are thrilled read a little more on what has taken place. Even though we are very far away we have felt the unity of family as all of the Larsen's have come together in prayer for Shar. We look forward to the Larsen Reunion going down in history as the miracle reunion with Shar bringing her new heart and lungs! We sure love and miss you all! Big hugs from Malaysia :)

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  26. Awesome story and great writing here! I don't even know what to say. Just awesome.

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  27. Ohm Dax. What a beautiful post. Thank you for sharing your family's story. I can't wait to see the pictures of you and Sharlie together on the trails.

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  28. Sharing the trail with your sister and nephew along with this story is simply visionary. Sending good Ozark mojo to you all. May the trail be smooth and long. Cheers.

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  29. Thank you for this beautiful post Dax! We have never met but as I type this tears are running down my cheeks and I feel a connection to you...much like I do my own three younger brothers. Sharlie is an inspiration to so many of us and this account you wrote is so personal and precious! The two members of your family that I do know are your Mom and Zak. Clearly you are all wonderful and amazing! Thank you! ~ Dyann

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  30. So beautiful, Dax. Loved hearing Sharlie's story through your eyes. I saw you ran Death Valley recently. I ran it in 2010, cool race indeed. It was a tough one for me mentally since it was my first out and back marathon, I need more scenery change! You should check out the Rimrock marathon in Grand Junction, CO. It's a challenge, for sure, but the scenery is beautiful. I look forward to a post about you and Sharlie on the trails!
    Megan Borgquist

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    1. Hey Megan, so nice to hear from you. That's awesome that you did the Death Valley marathon. It's such a fun, small race. I'm going to try to get out to Colorado this year and pace a friend of mine doing the Leadville 100 race. Running even a portion of those trails is going to be a challenge (especially coming from sea level), but the scenery out there will be amazing. I was just checking out your blog...so cool that you ran Boston.

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    2. The Leadville 100 is a beast! I have no desire for that one, but I salute the ones who do. Death Valley was actually my qualifying race for Boston! I ran St. George this last October and ran my fastest time - 3:33. I'm hoping to break the 3:30 mark this year. Any races you'd recommend for doing so? I'm thinking Utah Valley since it's downhill, relatively close to me, and a good time of year.

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  31. Dax: Thanks for the beautiful entry about Sharlie. Your loving and caring account of Sharlie -- and the account of the miraculous surgery she has undergone -- is very touching. I can see Sharlie running as well, and I love that image you have created for me with your tender words. Love, Uncle Mike

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  32. Thank you for the beautiful article Dax, your perspective is very inspiring.. I can't wait for the sequel.

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  33. Dax, I am so glad I read this. Thank you for finding my blog so I could find this. I hope everything is still going well. What an incredible eprspective and inspiring story.

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    1. Kate, thank you so much for the comment. Sharlie is doing amazingly well. We recently ran a 5K together and it was a beautiful experience for both of us. I wrote about it here -- http://dirtyrunning.blogspot.com/2012/10/lake-hodges-trail-5k-race-report.html.

      Dax

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