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West Linn well-wishers open their hearts

Resident Stuart Bailey receives heart transplant, community support

by: SUBMITTED PHOTO - Stuart Bailey and his wife, Jerriann, shown here in a Jan. 26 photo, sat for weeks in a room at Cedars Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles while awaiting a heart transplant.Near the end of 2013, Stuart Bailey’s life was in pretty good shape. For a man in his early 50s, the longtime West Linn resident was in good shape, too.

A self-employed business owner, he has lived in West Linn for close to 30 years, raising two sons, Mitchell and Michael, with his wife, Jerriann. A former volunteer baseball coach, he still enjoyed outdoor activities like hunting and fishing.

Everything changed, in a heartbeat, during a family vacation to Mexico in November.

“He just felt kind of winded, like he was having a hard time breathing,” Karon Paul said. She is a family friend who is serving as the family’s spokesperson.

Back home in West Linn, Stuart immediately scheduled an appointment with his doctor.

The news was unexpected. Doctors told him that he was in heart failure, and he was admitted to the hospital. He remained there for weeks, dealing with complications caused by his condition.

In January, he and his family learned that his best chance of survival rested on a receiving a heart transplant. He was airlifted to Cedars Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles and entered the heart transplant program there.

“Then the wait began,” Paul said.

by: SUBMITTED PHOTO - On the second day after receiving a heart transplant, Stuart Bailey and his wife wear happy smiles.

The avid outdoorsman saw his life shrink to the confines of a hospital room. Life continued outside that room, though. Stuart became a grandfather for the first time as his son Michael welcomed a baby boy, Bennett, with his wife, Lauren, on Feb. 2. Though Jerriann was able to fly home briefly to meet the new arrival, Stuart had to settle for being “grandpa in a box” as he met his grandson via video call.

“I wish that I could be there,” Stuart told his son. “But I’m here so I can be back there with you all.”

“He was limited to bed and a chair, as he was hooked up to monitors and catheters 24/7,” Paul said.

The waiting game continued, as Stuart’s hospital stay in LA stretched past the six-week mark. The couple had support, with friends and family members, including Michael and Mitchell, visiting when they could.

And back home in West Linn, a close-knit group of friends started planning ways to help.

A triumph and ongoing challenges

On Feb. 28, the long-awaited event happened. A donated organ proved to be a match, and Stuart received his transplant. Though he was a step closer to returning home, that day was still months away. And his family’s challenges were far from over.

Stuart’s recovery was the most immediate concern. Doctors were pleased with his results, and he began to unhook from the machines that had monitored him and kept him alive.

The next challenge involved arranging for ongoing care. Stuart would need to stay near Cedars Sinai for months, so that his doctors could monitor his progress. That meant finding a house to rent for the duration of his recuperation.

Jerriann Bailey took her husband home March 7, to an apartment in Rancho Palos Verde. Highlights of the car ride home, for him, included wearing real clothing, breathing fresh air and simply riding in the car.

For Jerriann, driving through LA in rush hour traffic with a heart transplant patient was not quite so enjoyable, but the trip was uneventful.

“We got home and settled in and then tried to decipher the huge bag of meds we were sent home with,” she wrote on Facebook. “It is going to take some time to get into a routine with the 16 different meds that need to be taken at very specific times each day.”

Fortunately, Stuart had medical insurance, and all procedures were preapproved by the insurance company. Still, Paul said, the associated costs mounted for the family.

“There are extraordinary costs associated with this kind of a medical event that would never be covered by insurance,” she said. “Renting an apartment in LA and setting up a separate household for months, not being able to work, medications, that kind of thing.”

‘A huge community’

The Baileys have a strong support network in West Linn. They still are friends with the people they met when their sons, now in their 20s, were grade-schoolers. Years later, that network was ready to mobilize to support the family.

“Everyone immediately started saying, ‘If this happened to us it could be financially devastating — for anybody,’” Paul said. “If somebody suffers an accident and they’re home recuperating, you take them dinner and do whatever you can to help. We can’t do that, because our friends are a thousand miles away and isolated.”

A fund was set up at U.S. Bank in Stuart Bailey’s name. A local charity called Good Deeds that provides assistance to families facing medical needs became involved. And various fundraisers have been planned.

The latest event will happen Saturday from 6 to 9 p.m. at Backstop Bar and Grill in Canby. For $35 per person, attendees can enjoy appetizers and a meal of smoked brisket or lemon chicken. Nonalcoholic beverages are included, and there will be a no-host bar. Jerriann and both her sons will be there to thank supporters personally. Musical entertainment will be provided courtesy of Portland’s Sing-Sing Sleepwalker band. Reservations to attend can be made through a special Facebook page, Friends of Stuheart2014.

by: SUBMITTED PHOTO - Stuart Bailey prepares to leave the hospital March 7, a week after receiving a new heart.

“There’s a number of people coming who know Stu, but there’s other people who are donating their time and their talents,” Paul said, including the musicians. “None of them know him at all.”

All the profits from the event will go to the Bailey family. The goal, Paul said, is to take some of the pressure off.

“For his sons to be able to fly down and not worry about the cost of plane tickets. For his wife to be able to go back and forth quickly, if she has to come home for a day ... for them not to have to worry about the full burden of setting up a second household,” she said.

In Paul’s view, the community support has been well earned over a lifetime spent in this small town.

“It’s all the things in people’s lives that they do,” she said. “You don’t necessarily realize the impact that you make on other people and how it comes back to you.”

Speaking of giving back, the event at Backstop on Saturday will feature information about organ donation.

“People don’t think about what being an organ donor can really mean and be to someone else,” Paul said.

Although Jerriann has been too worried and overwhelmed to speak publicly so far, she has promised to do so after she and her husband are safely settled back home in West Linn. Two goals will be to spread awareness about heart disease and to encourage organ donation.

“They’re just extremely grateful but it’s also extremely difficult,” Paul said. “As any transplant patient knows, somebody lost in order for them to live.”

For now, the story has a happy ending.

“He got his heart,” Paul said, “which is amazing.”

By Kate Hoots
Education reporter
503-636-1281, ext. 112
email: khoots@westlinntidings.com
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