The price of a heart

Lindsay CravenStaff Writer

December 30, 2012

One can’t place a price on a heart, but the staff of Lone Hickory Arena in Yadkinville can say that it played a part in helping Deep Gap resident Heather Greene find a little peace during the holiday season.

Lenuel and Sandy Chamberlain, owners of Lone Hickory Arena, worked with arena regulars and the community to raise money for Greene who received a heart transplant in February 2012 and is now facing an ever growing mountain of medical bills.

“I worked with Lowe’s companies with corporate events before I retired, and she worked in the travel department. So I just knew her relative to our departments working together,” Sandy Chamberlain said.

When Chamberlain’s first husband was diagnosed with cancer and she needed to be closer to home, she ended up taking a management position in the travel department with Greene. The two began to develop a closer relationship.

“I had been in the travel department about a year, and my husband was recovering from cancer when he died of a sudden heart attack,” Chamberlain said. “It was just one of those things where you understand what someone else is going through, and Heather was so completely there for me.”

Greene had a special compassion for Chamberlain because she too had been dealing with a heart condition she was diagnosed with in 2004. She was misdiagnosed with asthma for some time before her conditioned worsened to the point of an emergency room visit.

She was admitted into the hospital and two days later she went into cardiac arrest and had to be shocked. Doctors told her then that she would have to have a heart transplant within the next 10 to 15 years.

Chamberlain said that she didn’t know the extent of Greene’s illness to begin with because Greene made such a point to put on a brave front and never complain.

“There were days that I knew that she could hardly go, and she would be sitting there with her makeup perfect, smile on her face, and the average person never knew what was going on with her,” Chamberlain said. “There was a real drive in her life to do everything well.”

As time went on Chamberlain shared in Greene’s struggles as she learned that she would not be able to carry a child, and her health continued to diminish.

“I watched her process coming to terms with the fact that her body wouldn’t carry a baby,” Chamberlain said. “She was at that point where she wanted to have a family, but she just accepted that having a child wasn’t going to work and she got busy on making adoption happen.”

Greene was successful and adopted their little boy, Maddox, the day he was born. Chamberlain said that she thinks this new addition to Greene’s life was just what she needed to push on through her struggles with her heart disease.

“Maddox is just this beautiful child with a smile very much like hers and he just became the center of their universe,” Chamberlain said. “I think he was just what she needed to get that drive to keep on going when her heart started to diminish over the last few years before the transplant. She just kept going for him; he was her heart.”

On Feb. 22, 2012 Greene was placed on the transplant list and told to expect a wait of at least two to six months. To her surprise her phone rang later that same day to tell her they had a match and she was scheduled for surgery the next day.

Chamberlain said that it was a special moment the first time she got to see Greene after her transplant.

“She held her hands out and you could see blood flowing,” Chamberlain said. “Her hands had always been blue and cold. She had no makeup on but her cheeks were rosy and you could just see life and a working heart. It was just a neat thing to experience.”

Chamberlain said that Greene went back to work as soon as her doctors allowed it and despite a good career with good benefits she knows the medical bills are weighing heavily on Greene and her family.

Chamberlain said that Greene never made mention of the financial difficulties she was facing but did say that it was overwhelming coordinating information and payments between the medical offices and her insurance.

“I didn’t ask her but I went online and researched and found different statistics and one said in 2011 that the average year of a heart transplant recipient is about $997,000 if it goes well,” Chamberlain said. “I am sure the insurance has done well, but it only goes so far.”

This bit of information inspired Chamberlain to use her passion she’d found in retirement to help out an old friend. She went to Mike Lewallen, the director of the Carolina Outlaws, a mounted shooting performing group that performs regularly at Lone Hickory, and asked if they would be willing to help out with a fundraiser.

“Mike’s wife had experienced heart problems throughout her life and so it was something that was close to her,” Chamberlain said. “They said absolutely and asked whom it was for and what we needed them to do. I told them the story and they threw everything in behind it.”

Lewallen enlisted the help of Denny Chapman, a wild west entertainer who was featured on the first season of the History Channel’s “Top Shot” series. Chapman signed on to host a shooting seminar and demonstration of his stunt work.

Several other Yadkin County residents signed on to volunteer their time or skills to make the fundraiser a success. Through the seminars, food sales, a silent auction, bake sale and donations the result was a significant one for the Greene family.

For Heather, however, the event wasn’t about the money she would eventually take home for her medical bills. It was about the people who were there to support her whether they knew her or not.

“I have met a lot of people that I didn’t know,” Greene said. “I’ve met a lot of cancer survivors that have touched me. You’ve got to have that support and this event shows that support. People that don’t even know me came out to support me. It’s overwhelming.”

As for Chamberlain, she said that Heather’s story continues to change her life each day.

“She inspires and encourages me,” Chamberlain said. “There were those days before Heather when I would get up and just slump through my day and she just puts in everything in perspective. You just get up and you go on and put a smile on. Life is so much better because of that.”

Reach Lindsay Craven at 679-2341 or at lcraven@heartlandpublications.com.