Last June, John MacKoul was given the type of news one prays never to hear: his heart was failing and without a new one he would soon die. Yet MacKoul didn’t blink. He processed the information, consulted with his wife and son, and came up with a plan. He would do what was asked of him and enter Temple University Hospital to await a transplant. He would also find a way to get his law work done. This is not a man who takes a medical emergency lying down.
Once in the hospital, he transformed his 10-foot-by-8-foot room into a satellite office, complete with Internet access, a printer, a cordless phone and access to one of Temple’s fax machines. The 54-year-old senior partner and chairman of the housing finance practice at Stevens & Lee stayed busy during his five-month stay. He spent his time exercising on a treadmill, reading files, meeting with clients and raising funds for the American Heart Association (AHA). He wore a computerized pump and monitor around his waist that administered heart medication 24 hours a day.
“The hospital staff realized the importance of my physical health as well as my mental health,” MacKoul says. “I worked but it was more like juggling. I did about half of my normal output. There were the medications, meeting with doctors, residents and interns to discuss lab results, undergoing rounds of vitals, receiving visitors, and exercising.”
To raise money for the AHA, he and fellow patients conducted a mini-Heart Walk around the seventh floor of the hospital. MacKoul also obtained donations from co-workers, friends, relatives and members of the legal community. He raised $26,000. “I took the fundraising on primarily to make people aware of both the need to increase organ donation and the need to raise funds for research,” he says. “Remember, don’t let your organs go to heaven; give someone here a second chance.”
There were good days and bad. He took his satisfactions where they came, such as, surprisingly, in the quality of the hospital food. “Believe it or not, it wasn’t so bad. A personal chef for the heart failure unit made some pretty good dinners, including veal piccata, Chilean sea bass and petite filet mignon. But after a long day, sleep didn’t always come easy. [Wires] to my chest from the monitor sometimes got detached and at any time transport might arrive to take you for a test.”
On Nov. 6, MacKoul received his new heart. It took 10 specialists to perform the daylong procedure, but he came through just fine. He understands his life will forever be filled with medications and checkups, but he couldn’t be happier. “I’m not very religious, but I am spiritual and I do believe my surgery and survival was a miracle,” he says, smiling. “I’ve been blessed and I want to give something back.
“Miracles still happen,” he says. “The combination of faith and modern medicine knows no bounds.”