Denard

As I watched over these past weeks the Sarah Murnaghan lung crisis come to its hopeful conclusion in a double-lung transplant, I watched with bated breath as the family updated the media on their superhuman heroics to rescue their daughter, from certain death.

I’m sure that a conversation will no doubt ensue in certain circles about the ethics of the veracity of the Murnaghans, and the lengths through which they went through to get their ten year old daughter an adult lung transplant.

Controversy is not what this article is about.

Instead I thought that I’d take this moment to spell out a story of my own that played an integral part in my youth growing up, and still shapes me to this day.

His name was Denard. I first met him when I was around seven years old. I remember this because it was roughly the same time my mom came back into my life, after my parents divorced. My mother was a nurse who did hospice home care, and took care of those who were disabled completely, or partially due to birth defects, or childhood tragedies. Denard was the former. His lungs never developed fully, and so as such he couldn’t breathe without the assistance of a lung pump. Every couple of hours he needed to have his tracheotomy suctioned for mucus buildup.

Keeping Denard alive was my mom’s job.

Normally she wouldn’t take me to see her patients as there were no kids to play with. Denard was different. Aside from being confined to a wheelchair and needing a Radio Flyer to haul around his lung equipment, Denard was surprisingly mobile. We would get to his house not long after my Mom would pick me up from school for the weekend, and take me to rent a Nintendo game. When me and Denard first met at the time it was like kismet.

Looking back after all these years, the real word for it would be, Providence.

We were both really into video games (though he didn’t have a Nintendo) and since he was home schooled by a tutor he was a big Atlanta Braves fan. On one particular occasion I rented R.B.I. (a baseball game, for the Nintendo) to bring to his house along with my console. He was a little bit older than me at the time (not too far from Sarah Murnaghan’s age I suspect) but we got along like we were twins. He had never played a baseball game and so I taught him the ins and outs that Friday night. When it came time to pick teams however I was merciless and went straight for the Texas Rangers (this was during the Nolan Ryan era). As we played and laughed I could tell that he was having a good time, and by this time in our relationship, I knew that was all that mattered. I would inquire from him from time to time those Friday nights that we spent at his house, about when, if ever, he would be able to breathe without a machine or even go to school like me. He would just smile and instead of trying to explain it to me he would say something to the effect of “In due time.” On Saturday mornings on the way back from his house I would broach the subject with my Mother. She would always say “Kevin he has a congenital disorder”. When I would ask her to explain she would always say “I don’t want to talk about it Kevin!” I only met Denard on those handful of Fridays that my mom worked the night shift, but his influence is evident even today in my life. His struggle showed me compassion for other human beings, and that even though we may not have grown up on the same side of the tracks, we could still get along as though we were best friends.

In fact we were, and still are.

By the time Denard turned twelve it became evident that his lungs were not going to support his body, as puberty had come and he was growing out of them. My mother told me sometime after the fact that Denard was up for a double-lung transplant (experimental at the time).

They took him into surgery, and that’s the day he died.

His circumstances along with the circumstances of all the other children my mother took care of inspired me to become the man I am today.

Denard’s struggle since it was at such a young age for both him and me, along with the lasting bond we created through our friendship, shaped and molded my conscience and moral values. In fact to such an immense degree that whenever I hear of congenital diseases, I can’t help but think about Denard and the trials and tribulations he went through. And when I find myself not gaining traction at the things I want to accomplish, and think that maybe life is treating me a little unfair, I’m able to reflect on Denard and know what true hardship is, what true struggle is, but most importantly; what true friendship is.

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