When He Didn't Have a Prayer, Prayer Changed Things

By Gary and Jamie Watts

It seemed hopeless. Gary Watts' liver was failing and he needed a transplant. The doctors said he had about nine months to live, but the waiting list for a transplant was a year and half - and his insurance didn't cover transplants. Gary couldn't even get on the waiting list unless he had nearly a $200,000 in cash.

Friends in Arkansas City began a fundraising drive for donations and held several events. A fund was set up at a local bank. The net from the town of 12,700 people was about $3,200. A golf tournament there netted another $6,100. Gary's in-laws, Dave and Ronda Miller of Attica, went to work. A white elephant auction held in the Attica Park netted $1,200. Bake sales, a soup and supper and other fund-raisers from the town of 700 people brought in even more. These appreciated and touching displays of caring and generosity were still a drop in the bucket.

When a former schoolmate died in a car accident, his family requested that Gary be contacted. But with no insurance or the full amount of cash, doctors at Kansas University Medical Center wouldn't go to work. None of the pre-testing had been done at that time. It was time to pray.

"Calvary Chapel in Ark City, where we are members, started a prayer chain," Gary's wife Jamie recalls. "The prayer request was even put on the Internet. Gary's mom Delena called her aunt in Oklahoma. The girl who did our story in the Ark City paper called her mother in Georgia to start a prayer chain. Rev. Paul Bannister started prayer chains here at the Attica Christian Church, called on his sister in Belleville and his daughter in Texas and also called all the other pastors in Attica to ask their churches to join the prayer chain." Jamie marveled, "and Paul said prayers were even offered at the Wailing Wall in Jerusalem."

While the prayers were being raised, Delena and Gary's sister Jana began calling other medical facilities to find one who would begin the transplant pre-testing on a cash basis. They found cooperation at the University of Nebraska Medical Center and pre-testing began September 15, 1997, with Delena adding $5,000 from her own pocket.

Jamie's Mutual of Omaha group policy from work is good with any life-threatening problems. It turned out that her benefits could be applied to Gary's transplant. The transfer of coverage made possible by the efforts of Mutual of Omaha's Amy Protexter who knew about the Health Insurance's Portability and Accountability Act [HIPAA]. HIPAA is intended to protect employees when they move from one job to the other but Amy knew about the other possibilities. "That's what we're here for," Amy said. "We were glad we could help and wished the Watts family all the best." After a flurry of paperwork, Gary got the green light from Mutual of Omaha and began to wait for a donor.

"Gary was put in a 2B priority - the middle of the waiting list," Jamie explained. "A number 1 is a life or death situation with 24 to 48 hours left, a 2A is the top of the waiting list and a 3 is the bottom of the list." After just nine months of beginning the prayer chain, Gary's call came from the University of Nebraska Medical Center (UNMC), in Omaha, about an eight-hour car ride from our home.

"UNMC is within two miles of the Mutual of Omaha office, an easy call to make if I needed help," Jamie said. While a physician flew for the donated liver, the Watts drove to Jabara Airport in Wichita for the flight to Omaha. The pilot was Chris Kelley who had once worked with Gary.

"When we got UNMC, the Lied Transplant Center was being built beside the hospital," Gary marveled, "and there was a set of doors that I had built on the elevator. When we'd done that job 10 months previous, one of my buddies kidded me that I ought to deliver them and get a liver transplant while I was there."

Gary's surgery was not routine. His liver was so degenerated, it took an extra hour of surgery just removing it - it was so stuck in place. After the surgery, Gary was taken to the recovery room with tubes and electrical sensors coming out all over his body. "An Ark City friend's husband had also had a liver transplant," Jamie says, "and she prepared me for what he'd look like after the surgery or it would have been quite a shock."

"Here's what we learned from our experience," Jamie noted. "Be sure you're fully covered when choosing an insurance policy. Mutual of Omaha paid over $200,000 so far, before the last of the bills for his surgery came in! You and every member of your family can check the organ donor box on your driver's license, and discuss it with your loved ones. Your next of kin will have to decide to donate the organs," she explained, "so be sure your wishes are clear to them. The organs from one donor can save seven people or more, but that one donor's tissue, muscle, bone, skin, ligament can save even more!"

Rev. Paul Bannister noted that through the entire thing Gary maintained the sweetest spirit. He observed, "I never knew Gary to be bitter. Even when he was unable to accept the first liver (from his former classmate), Gary just said someone else must have needed it more than he did. His unwavering faith touched us," Paul said. "Gary seemed to know that when we came up against a hurdle, God would carry us through."

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