It was January of 1988, and Mary Crouse prayed for success as her husband Bernie underwent a heart transplant. At age 49 his condition was touch and go, and she asked God to give them a few more years together.
Thirty-one years later to the month, Crouse, now 69, is again counting on faith. Her son, Joe, who turned 45 last Thursday, is at Cleveland Clinic awaiting a new heart for his own transplant.
As unbelievable as she finds facing the same grievous circumstance twice in her life, Crouse refuses to let it defeat her.
“How I feel doesn’t matter. It’s all about Joe, it’s not about me,” she said.
Still, memories of her husband’s experience makes coping the second time around a bit more difficult.
“I just kind of know what to expect (now),” the former Swanton resident said. “It’s kind of hard, because I know more this time than I might want to know.”
Joe, an electrician for over 20 years who lives in his mother’s former Swanton residence, contacted her about eight years ago while she vacationed with his sister Lisa in Florida. He was fighting the flu, and told Crouse he was feeling particularly bad. She advised him to see a doctor.
When she returned home and witnessed his ill appearance and labored breathing, Crouse knew his condition was serious. “He could hardly walk from the (attached) garage to the house. I was blown away,” she recalled.
She took him to The Toledo Hospital, where tests revealed that Joe had congestive heart failure, the result of a viral infection from the influenza.
“The doctors said it was too late for them to do anything. We couldn’t believe what we were hearing,” Crouse said. “Of course, it brought back so many memories (of my husband).”
Her son was placed on medication, but over the next couple of years he became dissatisfied with his treatment. He traveled to Cleveland Clinic in 2012 for a health evaluation, and was told he would eventually need a heart transplant.
After revisiting the clinic last Tuesday, Joe was admitted to its Intensive Care Unit and placed on a heart transplant list. If a new heart doesn’t become available within two weeks of his admittance he’ll be reevaluated. Currently, he’s classified as one stage away from someone most in need of the operation.
“I want people to have an awareness of organ donation. It’s so important,” Crouse said.
She is still reeling over reliving the experience. Her husband Bernie, the director of engineering for the former Seaway Foodtown supermarket chain, developed congestive heart disease around 1980. Seven years later, he was evaluated at Presbyterian University Hospital in Pittsburgh, Pa., and by September of 1987 was placed on a transplant list.
“The doctor had told us they’d done everything they could, and it was in God’s hands,” Crouse said. “We just had our faith and knew it would work out. I never thought I’d lose him. He was in good hands.”
She never left her husband’s side at the hospital. They spent the next four months trying to stay positive and relying on faith. “We took it a day at a time and never gave up hope,” Crouse said.
On Jan. 9, 1988, Bernie Crouse received the heart of a 17-year-old New Jersey resident who died from head injuries sustained in a motorcycle accident. Bernie returned home in February with a prognosis of five to 10 years, saying, “I’ll take it, because I’ve still got things to do.”
He returned to work, and lived another decade before succumbing to heart failure in 1998 at the age of 58.
“I had him for 10 years. He lived almost a normal life. I counted my blessings every day I had him,” Crouse said.
Now retired after working 25 years at the former Schucker’s Restaurant in Swanton, she suffers from a serious back condition and has nearly lost her sight from macular degeneration. Her health prevents her from visiting her son as often as she’d like, but Crouse takes comfort knowing that his wife Michelle is with him, giving excellent care.
”I’ve had a lot on my plate, but I know everybody has problems,” she said.
Doctors haved advised that Joe’s son, Devon, a sophomore at Swanton High School, receive a heart evaluation as a precaution. Joe also has a 12-year-old daughter, Hannah, a sixth grade student at Swanton Middle School.
And though it seems that history is cruelly repeating itself, Crouse is leaning on her faith.
“I’m a strong believer,” she said. “I’m not going to think otherwise. Joe is my rock. He’s been there so much for me since his dad died. We need all the prayers that we can get.”
Reach David J. Coehrs at 419-335-2010.