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Marking a special anniversary

Alice Russell of Farmington remembers the exact moment she knew her husband, Ray, was going to be OK.

It was March of 1993. The couple had just recently returned from wintering in Florida.

“We got back and I had a massive heart attack,” Ray said. “I went into Barnes Hospital in the middle of March and I stayed for five months.”

Ray, who celebrates his 88th birthday soon, was hooked up to a heart machine for months before he would have a heart transplant.

On July 10, 1993, Ray was the recipient of a donor heart. He would be released from the hospital on Aug. 13, 1993 – a Friday, he recalled.

“I stayed July 10 to Aug. 13 in, basically, a half-way house I called it,” he said. “I stayed there until I recuperated (from the transplant) enough to come home.”

He would come home to Farmington, walking around the mobile home park to regain his strength – noting he eventually got to the point where he could walk around without having to stop.

“In fact, I got (my transplant) in July,” he said. “In November of ’93, I hooked a fifth-wheel to my truck, put my bass boat behind the fifth wheel and we went to Okeechobee, Florida and spent the winter.

“I’ve been having good luck with it ever since.”

He goes in for blood work every three months, to the VA Clinic every six months and to Barnes Hospital once a year. He is known as “number 220” at the hospital – designating his location on the number of transplants performed at the time.

“The number tells how long ago they were doing (transplants),” Alice said.

Ray said he takes “a bushel of medicine,” adding he’s been able to enjoy his favorite activities since the surgery.

“The good Lord has helped me because I never had any rejection from it, whatsoever,” he said. “I do what (the doctors) tell me to do.”

And now, 25 years later, he tells the story of miracles one after another.

Ray was placed on the transplant list in those months following his heart attack. At the time of his surgery, however, he was not the first person on the list.

“The Fourth of July came around,” he said, “(Doctors said) we can probably get you a heart. The main thing is, there was a guy across the aisle who was to get the next heart. This was on a Monday – and he told the doctors he was going home … on Wednesday he went home and on Friday, he passed away.

“Saturday morning, I got the heart he would have.”

The heart came from a 23-year-old male donor. At that time, meeting donor families was not common. The couple wrote a letter to the donor’s family, both thanking them for their gift and expressing sympathy at their loss.

“Back then, we didn’t do that,” he said. “We wrote a letter thanking them and all that … we found out (the heart) came from a 23-year-old male and that’s as far as we got.”

Ray was in a coma for seven to 10 days following the surgery, something Alice thought would be expected – but doctors told her that was not the case.

“One day, he came out of it,” she said. “His cheeks were just so rosy. He looked so good. Anyway, the good Lord just helped him.”

Ray said he grew to dislike hospital food – noting it was “smuggled-in food and chocolate milk” that made the difference for him.

“(Alice) starting eating the hospital food instead of me,” he said, “and, it wasn’t long until she started disliking the hospital food.”

He’s only spent one night in the hospital since that time for placement of a stent.

“I have a good heart,” he said.

The couple – married 67 years in April – are the parents of two sons and five grandchildren. They had the Russell Poultry Farm in Belleview years ago, and would go on to run and manage mobile home parks in Minnesota and Florida.

He would work as a bus driver for the Farmington R-7 School District and for a travel company, retiring in 2016.

The couple also volunteer with their church, Life Church, helping with the bread donation program at the church. It was because of this work Sandra Miller emailed the Farmington Press about Ray and his story.

Back to that moment Alice knew her husband was on the road to recovery … Ray said his wife had a vision, a confirmation, that all would be well.

While staying with her husband while he was still on the heart pump, a nurse came into the room telling Alice she had a phone call at the nurse’s desk.

“I would never give anybody a number to call the nurse’s station,” she said. “How (the call came through there), I’ll never know. She said for me to just sit there and she would leave so I could have some privacy.”

The caller was wanting to know how Ray was doing – a typical phone call to receive when a loved one is in the hospital.

Alice said she happened to glance down to the side while sitting in the chair. All at once, a picture appeared to her of Ray sitting in his chair at home.

“Because I had my mind on telling her, I just wasn’t expecting (the vision),” she said. “Anyway, I said ‘oh, my goodness. Ray is going to be OK.’ I just said that. I don’t even know why I said it – because he was OK in that picture. (The caller) said ‘oh, that’s good.’

“From that day on, I knew he was going to be alright.”

Alice said a cousin in Montana shared Ray’s story with coworkers, who expressed their disbelief as to his ordeal.

“They came here to see him,” Alice said, “and, while they were here, (the cousin) said ‘I want to take your picture.’ Her husband said … “why don’t you have Alice sit down beside him’ and she said, ‘If I wanted her in the picture, I would have told her to go down and sit by him.’

“So, anyway, I understood she was going to take this picture and take it to her work to show her coworkers … that was it. We didn’t think any more about it.

“A month or two passed and her father-in-law – Ray’s uncle – came to the door and said ‘I have something Mary sent you and she wanted me to give these to you.’ In a manila envelope – I pulled the picture out – and there was the very picture I saw (in a vision at the hospital).

“I said, ‘I already saw that picture’ and (the uncle) said, ‘Oh, no. She just took this and had it developed and sent it to us to give it to you.’”

She said her husband knew about the vision from the hospital.

“Ray recognized the picture when he saw it and said ‘that’s the picture,’” she said.

Ray and Alice Russell share the story of Ray's heart transplant and the days, weeks and months that followed his recovery. The couple marked 25 years on July 10 for his transplant surgery. 

Ray and Alice Russell share the story of Ray’s heart transplant and the days, weeks and months that followed his recovery. The couple marked 25 years on July 10 for his transplant surgery. 

This photograph, taken by a cousin of Ray Russell, is exactly what Alice Russell saw in a vision during her husband's hospitalization following a massive heart attack in 1993. The picture was taken months after he returned home. 

This photograph, taken by a cousin of Ray Russell, is exactly what Alice Russell saw in a vision during her husband’s hospitalization following a massive heart attack in 1993. The picture was taken months after he returned home. 

Shawnna Robinson is the managing editor of the Farmington Press and can be reached at 573-518-3628 or srobinson@farmingtonpressonline.com

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