Wolf was diagnosed as a child with restrictive cardiomyopathy, a condition in which the heart muscle is constricted and cannot pump blood efficiently. She received her heart transplant at age 8 at the Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh in 1997.
Nease suffered six heart attacks from 1983 to 1999, and described his failing heart as “withering away.” The sturdy senior was informed by a Vanderbilt heart team that he qualified for a heart transplant, which he received Oct. 16, 2000.
Wolf, who is studying for her master’s degree in school counseling at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga, said, “I was motivated to earn my master’s in school counseling because my elementary school counselor was a very important person in my life while I was going through my heart transplant journey. This past May 31, I was blessed to celebrate my 14-year heart anniversary.”
The two heart recipients were brought together by Sherri Littrell, the office manager at LifeCircle Women’s Healthcare in Cleveland.
“In 2003, Dr. Steven Wolf joined our practice and one of the first things we learned about Dr. Wolf was that his daughter had a heart transplant when she was 8,” Littrell explained. “That was particularly interesting to me because my uncle had a heart transplant. I could not believe I knew two people who survived a heart transplant.”
Littrell wanted the two to meet and once Dr. Wolf’s daughter started to work part time after school and in the summer at LifeCircle, it became an intriguing topic of conversation.
“I always talked to Carrie about my uncle and his story, and always said I need to introduce you guys,” Littrell said. “I finally decided it was time for the two of them to meet.”
The three went to a casual lunch together recently, not knowing how things would turn out. It turns out Littrell did not have to say a word.
“That was my first time meeting Carrie,” Nease said. “She has a beautiful personality. We were talking so much my niece just watched us! I was so excited and proud of Carrie I didn’t get to eat much. When she told me she received a heart transplant at 8 years old it tickled me to death.”
The high-spirited 80-year-old praised Wolf for her courage, kindness and commitment to excel in her life.
“Clarence and I each shared our stories of our journey before and after our transplants,” said Wolf, who graduated in May with a bachelor’s of science in child and family studies. “It was interesting to talk to someone who has had the same experience because we had similar questions and answers we could both relate to.
“We talked about how long we’ve had our transplants — our health before our surgery, how long we were on the donor list and what our health has been like after our transplants. We discussed what checkups are like for each of us and what types of medicine we take.”
According to Wolf, Nease asked if she remembered the emotions she felt during her journey as a heart recipient.
“I could not recall many, because I was very young,” she said. “But he described his experience as extremely emotional to go through as an adult. It made me think about how different it would be for me emotionally if I had to have a second transplant in the future.
“It was wonderful to meet an older person who had such a positive spirit and excitement for life! It was great to see a person at his age doing so well post-transplant, because I have often wondered how long my health will remain stable the older I get.”
Nease said, “Some people don’t like talking about their heart transplant. But I want to talk about it. I’m blessed! I encourage people to become organ donors. Meeting Carrie was precious! It’s hard to talk to anyone about it who hasn’t had a transplant.”
“It was surreal to be sitting next to two lives that had survived such an amazing surgery,” Littrell added. “The age difference was quite a bit, but their stories were very similar. Carrie is now a beautiful, grown woman. Clarence spends most of his days a bit more laid back, but not any different than any other 80-year-old man, I would imagine.”
Wolf said, “Clarence reminded me that we are both blessed to be alive and that we should not worry about the future too much, because everything is in God’s hands. I absolutely loved meeting him and sharing our stories with each other and I wish more people in Cleveland would do the same.
“Organ transplants are miracles given by families who have had loved ones die. I believe a great way to celebrate and show appreciation to these donor families is to live a healthy, purposeful life that includes educating others by sharing our stories.”
Neither Wolf nor Nease have had contact with their donor families, but both desire to do so in the future. For now, the two seems satisfied with meeting each other — two people who, despite their age difference, proved to be all heart. The heart transplant recipients said they would encourage more people to become organ donors and share the gift of life.
“I was so lucky to meet another man this past weekend at the YMCA who stopped me to comment on my Donate Life bracelet,” Wolf said. “He thanked me for wearing it because he had a heart transplant six and a half years ago. It was a surreal moment that gave me another reason to believe that my story is a gift to be shared.”
For further information on organ transplants or be become an organ donor, visit the Tennessee Donor Services at www.donatelifetn.org.