By RICK HAYES
SCHELLER — —
Ernest Kujawa reached a milestone on Thursday — 25 years of being a successful heart transplant recipient.
No special plans were observed by his family on the occasion, although he and his wife will reach another milestone this spring.
"I'm just thankful that I've got to live this long because I didn't expect to live that long after a transplant," Kujawa said. "I've been able to see both of my kids get married, all of the grandchildren come along, and in May we'll celebrate our 50th wedding anniversary, so I've got a lot to be thankful for."
Kujawa and his wife Rose will celebrate their golden wedding anniversary on May 18. A "big" party will be held at the Knights of Columbus Hall in DuBois, according to the Kujawas.
"This year is a special year for our family," stated daughter Brenda Rohde of Mongtomery, Ala. "We celebrated the 25th anniversary of my father's heart transplant on Thursday and in May my parents will celebrate their anniversary. Neither of these special occasions would have been possible without the generous gift of organ donation. In the past 25 years, my father has been able to experience my wedding and my brother, enjoy his six grandchildren who all call him PoPo, and many other wonderful occasions." Rohde has two daughters, Abby and Ansley.The Kujawas are also the parents of Craig Kujawa, superintendent at Bethel Grade School. He and his wife Julie have two sons and two daughters: Keatyn, Kelby, Quinton and Calan.
The 72-year-old Kujawa first started having heart problems at the age of 40.
"It started back in 1980; I had to have bypass surgery," Kujawa said. "It helped me for awhile. I went back to work in the coal mine and farmed until January 1988 when I had a massive heart attack. Dr. (Daniel) Hoffman met me at the hospital and rode with me in the ambulance to Barnes Hospital. I came home for a couple of weeks and my heart started acting up again so they put me in the hospital. That's when my heart went into V-tech, with my heart beating real fast, and I passed out. That's when he had to start shocking me. Then he rode with me to the ambulance again to Barnes. They said they shocked me about 45 times on the way," he said.
"They finally decided the only thing that would help me is a heart transplant. Without it, they said I probably wouldn't live very long. So they started testing me, and when I passed the test, they put me on a list. I was on a list for only a few days when they called and said I had a heart so they did the transplant," he added.
"We are so fortunate to have my dad here with us. He came so close to death many times in early 1986. It was a miracle that he was on the transplant list for only nine days when he received his new heart. We love him and can't imagine not having him here for the last 25 years," Rohde stated.
Kujawa has no idea who the heart recipient is, but said despite having to take a number of medications for other ailments "my heart has been perfect ever since." He added, "To this day, we don't know who the recipient is. I wish I did know so I could thank the family for the gift."
Kujawa was able to eventually return to work at Consol No. 4 mine in Cutler, retiring in 1997 with full retirement benefits. Wife Rose lost her job at the former MCA factory in Pinckneyville two years later when her department was shut down. The Kujawas say, "We lived happily ever after."
Ernest Kujawa comes from a family of 15. Despite losing a brother earlier this year, he still has four brothers and eight sisters living.
"I didn't want to die," Kujawa said when thinking back through the medical ordeal. "He wanted to give up, but the kids helped him a lot," Rose said. "If it hadn't been for them, I probably wouldn't have made it," Ernest added.