The beat goes on
If it weren't for a computer glitch, Jay Sheldon might be dead.
If it weren't for a computer glitch, Jay Sheldon might be dead.
If a perfectly healthy 28-year-old man hadn't collapsed for no apparent reason, Jay might be dead.
If weren't for that young man's decision to be an organ donor, Jay might be dead.
But the computer's mouse refused to click and drag.
Cristopher (Crist) Wechsler, son of Bob and Sherry Wechsler of Elbow Lake, died in a freak accident and was an organ donor.
And Jay Sheldon is alive to tell about it.
A guardian angel
Jay, a resident of Elbow Lake, had his first heart attack in June 2002 at age 45. An angiogram determined that of the four major arteries in his heart, one was clogged 100 percent, one 90 percent, and one 80 percent. A quadruple bypass was performed.
In September that same year, Jay had another heart attack. Doctors discovered that all the bypasses had failed so they inserted a stent - the first of 20 over the next two years.
After his fourth heart attack in October 2003, doctors at the University of Minnesota in Minneapolis told him that he would eventually need a heart transplant.
"They called a code blue," said Jay's wife, Tammy. "He pretty much died."
By March 2004 Jay was put on the transplant list. To keep him alive until a heart was available, doctors implanted a left ventricular assist device. Jay described it as a 6-pound titanium pump with two hoses coming out of his belly - one for air and the other to plug into an electrical source.
In early June, Jay was put at the top of the heart transplant list. But that coveted position didn't last long. A couple weeks later, his antibodies were too high. Because he would have to have treatment for this setback, he was called and told that he would temporarily be taken off the list.
Then his guardian angel - in the form of a mouse - stepped in.
"I deep down believe that as wild a ride as it was for us...she was an angel," Jay said.
After breaking the bad news to Jay, an employee at the hospital tried to drag his name off the top of the list with her computer mouse. It refused to cooperate.
"God has a plan and people don't always understand it," Sherry Wechsler said. "She was supposed to take him off of the list, but God's plan was different."
The woman got busy and vowed to do it the next morning.
That never happened. Instead, fate stepped in. After spending the evening lamenting the possibility of not receiving a heart, Jay got a call from the hospital telling him that one was available.
"I told them I wasn't on the list," Jay explained. "They said, 'Yes you are. This one has already been approved. It's a 100 percent perfect match. Can you be here in three hours?' "
Twin Cities residents at the time, the Sheldons were at the hospital within 45 minutes.
That's when their lives became forever entwined with the Wechsler family.
Hope from tragedy
Crist Wechsler, the grandson of Ken and Blanche Wechsler of Alexandria, was a robustly healthy young man. The Richfield resident was a happy newlywed who had his whole life ahead of him. That changed in an instant.
On a sunny Saturday morning, June 12, 2004, he and his wife were walking down the basement stairs. Suddenly, Crist collapsed and "torpedoed" down the stairs, colliding into a cement wall.
"We don't know what made him fall," said his father, Bob Wechsler.
The impact caused severe head trauma. Doctors told his parents, who at the time lived in Illinois, that "prayer was the order of the day."
"When doctors tell you that, you know it's pretty bad," said Sherry, tears gathering at the memory.
With his death imminent, the Wechslers were asked if they had considered organ donation.
"Absolutely!" Bob responded. "Because that was his wish."
From fervently praying that their son would survive, the Wechslers had to switch gears and pray for him to die.
"It's still tough," Sherry said. "Our son's dying, but someone else is living. You are mourning and it's killing you that he's not going to be there anymore."
"But you get the feeling that it's not totally the end of the line," Bob added. "It's comforting to know that something good is going to come out of it."
Crist was pronounced dead late June 15 - at about the same time Jay Sheldon was told he was being taken off the heart transplant list.
A few hours later, it was discovered that Crist's heart was a perfect match for Jay - and the beat was about to go on.
And the two become one
Jay and Tammy Sheldon were torn. They were praying desperately for a heart for Jay, yet they knew that to receive one, someone had to die.
That someone was Crist Wechsler.
Hours after Crist's death, on June 16, 2004 his heart was transplanted into Jay. After just 10 days in the hospital, for the first time in years, Jay had a heart that was completely healthy and functioning.
Within six weeks of the transplant, the Sheldons and the Wechslers began anonymous correspondence through LifeSource, a confidential organ donation organization. The two couples continued to write back and forth and by the spring of 2005 exchanged names. They decided that they wanted to meet.
In May, the two couples saw each other for the first time.
As Jay struggled for words and the laughter turned to tears for all four, he said, "It was wonderful to meet these people who had lost their son, but because of that son I was there to have lunch with them."
"I kept thinking that we're so thankful and so happy and here we are at a table with someone who lost their son," Tammy added. "We're so happy and they are feeling so much pain."
After that first successful but emotionally difficult meeting, the couples continued to maintain correspondence. Then another twist of fate stepped in.
"The Lord has been in this whole picture," Sherry insisted.
The lease on the Wechslers' restaurant in Illinois was up and they decided not to renew. They tried to find other locations there but kept "hitting brick walls."
Meantime, the Sheldons had recently moved to Elbow Lake to be closer to Tammy's family. In January 2007, the Wechslers came to Alexandria to visit Bob's parents. It was the perfect opportunity for another meeting.
When the Sheldons heard of Bob and Sherry's search for a restaurant to lease, Jay said, "Heck, there's a restaurant in Elbow Lake for sale."
The Wechslers looked at the property and decided to buy it. They also purchased a home.
Having no clue where the Sheldons lived, the house the Wechslers purchased ended up being only a half block away from them.
"Life takes funny turns and it hasn't turned out any way we ever expected," Bob said.
Although it may not have been the turn they wanted, through tragedy came an unexpected friendship and bond.
"We have a familial tie," Bob said, tears once again flowing. "Part of him is part of us."
And with his gratefulness difficult to put into words, Jay concluded, "It's because of Crist and them that we are here today."
And they all agree - a guardian angel had a little something to do with it, too.