A Heart Transplant for Chris – Making a Tough Decision

Chris Nielsen


by Dianne N.

On June 28, 1787, when the Constitutional Convention was deadlocked, Benjamin Franklin made these comments:

I have lived, Sir, a long time, and the longer I live, the more convincing proofs I see of this truth — that God governs in the affairs of men. And if a sparrow cannot fall to the ground without His notice, is it probable that an empire can rise without His aid?”…

While the scale is entirely different, I agree with Franklin’s conclusion, that it is wisdom to apply for God’s help in daily matters.

When our oldest child, Chris, was 16 years old, he was diagnosed with a failing heart, and his cardiologists recommended a transplant.  We were faced with many medical decisions:  surgery or not?  Which hospital?  How to follow through with complicated medical instructions?  We were faced with personal decisions, too:  Make-a-wish or not?  Family vacations to visit loved ones?  We also had existential questions on a grand new scale:  How does a person endure suffering?  What does life mean, even if it ends in youth?

The heart transplant was a dramatic example, but in ordinary times I have  questions, too,   commonplace, but important:  where to live, how to educate our  children; family rules, children’s friends; managing financial and time resources.

Believing that “family is central to the creator’s plan for his children,” and that prayer is an invitation by deity to talk over our concerns, national or personal,  I have felt empowered to pray about family concerns.  Here are a few guidelines that work for me.

  1. Ask specifically for what I hope for. This takes some homework that is beneficial, even before the prayer starts:  think through the situation, think through my hopes, values and priorities, and come up with a proposal.
  2. Fast about especially important concerns. Spiritually focusing practice:  reminder that it’s important;  takes away other distractions;  chance to show my seriousness.
  3. Be prepared for surprises. Often I have received answers which were not what I had thought of.  Some of the most surprising answers have brought the most growth:  unexpected opportunities,  new friendships, or hidden talents.

Here’s what happened in our family.  We went ahead with the transplant, with a spirit of peace and comfort that was more than nature would ever have predicted.   Often, when I was worried, my prayers took the form of “what will happen?”  What I got, in response, was more like a color than a word-based answer:  something warm-ish, kind of peach-like, relaxing my muscles and quieting my mind.  The closest words were along the lines of “It will be ok.”   I sometimes tried to ask back, “OK, as in, he will live to be 85 with no more heart problems?”   The response was more like a repetition of comfort,  “It will be okay.”

And it has been okay.  He got 13 years of terrific health, in which he was able to graduate from college, serve 2 years as a missionary, work, start graduate school, and fall in love.  Then he started having kidney troubles, and left this life at age 30.  The ways it has been okay are that he did many things that mattered to him, and got to spend a lot of time with people he loved.  It has been okay for us because we somehow lived through the loss and try to remember to treasure relationships and time.  There are other ways it has been harder:  we will always miss him, wish we had more time, and regret some opportunities we missed.

I’m closing with something he wrote after the transplant.  We put it on his headstone.

“He looks around at the green field.

Middle school starts next week.

What now?  What next?


He looks around at his books.

He graduates from college next week.

What now?  What next?


He looks around the hospital room.

The doctors say not long now.

What now?  What next?

He looks up and knows the answer.”

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2 thoughts on “A Heart Transplant for Chris – Making a Tough Decision

  1. Kristie Hansen says:

    This is beautiful. Thank you.

  2. Katherine Rollins says:

    Very touching story. I have heard snatches of it before, but never the whole story. I agree that prayers are crucial. Not just for the big things, but every single day. God has many blessings in store for us. All we have to do is ask. He blesses us for our obedience to His commandments, and for our service to others. Prayer is one way to stay close to GOD. We need him in our lives.

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