A very special Transplant Awareness Day

Sep. 18, 2013 @ 12:19 PM

On Friday morning, Ivan K. Harrell attended a committee meeting for the 3rd Annual Transplant Awareness Day at his church, Union Baptist, which began holding the event in Harrell’s honor because he was on a waiting list for a heart transplant. His friend Kelvin Allen was at the meeting, too, and said his friend was in a chipper mood.

“The next day, he called and said, ‘Hey Kelvin, I’m about to go!’” Allen said. “Go where?” Allen asked. Harrell said he was going to get his new heart at UNC Hospitals, that’s where.
“He was in a good mood. He said, ‘Man, I’m not afraid,’” Allen said.
Harrell’s bag has been packed for years at home in Durham, where he lives with his sister and mother. He spent years teaching tennis to inner-city youth in Durham, but his health problems sidelined some of his coaching. He was diagnosed with ventricular tachycardia and high blood pressure in 1993, and had a defibrillator implanted. He was also diagnosed with cardiomyopathy, congestive heart failure, atrial fibrillation, a blood clot and 50 percent blockage of his main artery. Doctors told Harrell a heart transplant was critical to his survival. In interviews the past two years, Harrell has said that he keeps a positive outlook and looks forward to continuing to teach tennis after his transplant.
Paula Harrell was on her way home from shopping when her brother called.
“He said, ‘I got the call; they have the heart for me,’” she said. She rushed home and they got ready to go.
She doesn’t remember what they said before he went in for surgery because it was such a surreal moment, she said. Harrell kissed her brother’s bald head and held his hand, she said, as did their mother, Fannie Harrell.
“He was excited. We were all excited because we were waiting two, three years. He didn’t seem to be nervous,” Paula Harrell said.
The transplant began in dark hours of early Sunday morning. After it was finished, there was some concern about Ivan Harrell’s blood pressure, but that stabilized, she said.
On Tuesday, he had a second surgery to close his chest, his sister said, and he won’t be awake for another few days.
“I went in each time after surgery, and Mama did, too, for just a minute or two,” Paula Harrell said. “He’s on the ventilator and they said he was doing well. He’s monitored constantly. He’s getting good care. I felt assured.”
Harrell said she is comfortable and at peace with her brother’s surgery and recovery because of their faith.
“We are a family of faith and we had prayers from family and friends from around the country,” she said, in addition to continuous and fervent prayers of her pastor, the Rev. Reginald Van Stephens and the congregation of White Rock Baptist Church, and Ivan’s pastor, Rev. Kenneth Hammond and Union Baptist Church.
“We also prayed for the family of the donor. Ivan would not be where he is without prayer,” she said.
Allen said his friend getting his heart transplant gives this year’s Transplant Awareness Day more meaning. It will be held at 4 p.m. Sept. 29 at Union Baptist Church. The planning committee took two busloads of people to see the Martin Luther King Jr. National Memorial in Washington, D.C. in April as part of the fundraising effort for Harrell’s care. They’ve been raising money to help Harrell pay for the anti-rejection medicine he needs after the transplant, to cover whatever insurance doesn’t. Transplant Awareness Day is more than just about Harrell, Allen said. The event will include donor and recipient testimonials and the 100 Men in Black choir will sing. Representatives from the National Foundation for Transplants, UNC Chapel Hill Hospitals and Carolina Donor Services will also be there.
“Union Baptist and Pastor Kenneth Hammond have thrown their support behind us 100 percent,” Allen said. Offerings during the three church services on Transplant Awareness Day are taken for Harrell’s medical fund.
“I’m just so excited for Ivan. I want him to wake up so I know he’s really OK,” Allen said.

WANT TO GO?

WHAT: 3rd Annual Transplant Awareness Day
WHEN: 4 p.m. Sept. 29
WHERE: Union Baptist Church
904 N. Roxboro St., Durham
INFORMATION: Contact Kelvin D. Allen at 919-824-9873 or kdemarcusa@gmail.com.