by Jay Campbell, JD – BloodCenter of Wisconsin -VP, Organ Donor Program
(Remarks delivered 3/4/2013 – Ray Harmon Memorial)
Ray called me from the hospital a few months ago. “I’m here at the hospital with my son Dominique,” he said, “He’s just been transplanted, Jay. He has a new heart, just like me.” But I already knew. And I thought back to 2006, to another phone call from Ray, from another hospital. “I’m here at the hospital,” he said. “I’ve just been transplanted, Jay – I have my new heart.” Back then, I already knew that, too, because heart transplant is what I do. Hearts, and other organs.
So you see, I know something about hearts.
In 2006, when I first came to Milwaukee, I met Ray Harmon at Saint Luke’s hospital. He was hooked to an artificial heart as big as a Volkswagen.
It was louder than one, too. And for six months Ray pushed his big Volkswagen heart around that hospital floor.
Day after day, week after week, and month after month, Ray Harmon pushed that big mechanical heart around the hospital floor while we waited for his new heart.
For more than half a year Ray lived at the hospital, hooked to that big mechanical heart by surgical tubes and wires, listening to the engine pump his blood out of his body and back in, while we waited for a donor. And I wondered why God was taking so long to find Ray a new heart. But after I got to know him, I understood. Because to find a heart big enough, and strong enough, and good enough, to keep up with Ray Harmon took quite some time. Even for God.
But God always comes through. Ray finally got his big new heart, a real heart, and he walked out of that hospital with a new purpose in life. Ray promised to do good with his second chance at life, and he did.
He loved his children, and his mother Mary, and his family and his new wife Pam even more, and even harder. And he thanked the Lord for the new life he had been given.
But Ray wanted to do one more thing. Ray wanted to help other people give and receive the gift of life – organ donation – just as he had. So he called me again, and said “put me to work.” And I did, and he went at it with a stubborn, single-minded determination.
Ray traveled, and spoke, and wrote, and created videos and even school programs here in Milwaukee at MPS, always talking about what his new heart meant to him, and why he decided to use his big new heart to work for the gift of life – organ donation. He never quit.
Back then, I had been brought to Milwaukee to make things better for folks waiting for an organ transplant. And things did get better, and many new lives were saved.
But in truth, it was Ray’s work that made that happen, because with Ray’s help, Milwaukee went from one of the hardest places in the United States to wait for a transplant to one of the best, and in a very short time. And that was Ray, using his big new heart to its fullest.
In the middle of that work Ray’s mother, Mary, passed. And Ray called me that night and said he knew Mary wanted to save lives, and he wanted her to be an organ donor. Ray asked us to help make that happen, and we did, and three lives were saved. And again, that was Ray, using his big new heart to its fullest.
Just before he passed, six years after his own transplant, Ray was able to see his son Dominique receive a second chance at life – because Dominique, like Ray, needed a heart transplant to live. Just a few weeks ago, Ray’s son Dominique got his own big new heart, a gift of life from the hard work of his father to make organ donation a new reality here in Milwaukee.
When Ray called me from Dominique’s hospital room, he was proud, and happy, and satisfied. In some ways, I think he felt his work was done.
So we should not be sad at Ray Harmon’s passing from this world. Ray got a second chance, and a second life. He got his big new heart, and just as he promised, he rolled up his sleeves and he used that heart hard.
Over the last six years, Ray Harmon worked so hard, and loved so much, that he used every bit of goodness and love there was in that big new heart, until it just wore out.
And last week, having used every beat that big new heart had to give, Ray Harmon finally went home to rest.
Tonight, I am here to announce that the organ donor program at BloodCenter of Wisconsin is creating a scholarship to honor Ray Harmon.
This scholarship will be another gift from Ray Harmon to the community, an enduring testament to the power of a good man. This scholarship will be a reminder that Ray Harmon was a man who lived a life so full, and had so much to do, that he needed two hearts to get it done.