Hospital friendship and the gift of life Transplant: Two strangers shared tears and prayers in the waiting room. Then one loved one died, and another received a second chance.

March 10, 1998|By Kelly Gilbert | Kelly Gilbert,SUN STAFF

Carman Moloney and Bob Bradshaw got to talking one January day in a hospital visitors' lounge. Bradshaw's wife was in intensive care, being treated for a birth defect in her brain. Moloney's mother was in coronary care.

From that chance meeting came what the two families are calling miracle. For when Bradshaw's wife died, he gave her heart to Moloney's mother.

The "directed" organ donation, doctors say, is "extremely rare." Even more unlikely, the heart was a good match.

Today, Bradshaw will join Moloney and her mother at the University of Maryland Medical Center to honor his wife's memory. There's much more to the story.

Last year, Cheryl Bradshaw started having headaches, but thought little of them. Then in December, she had a grand mal seizure and was hospitalized. Doctors at the medical center found an arterial venous malfunction, or AVM, a birth defect in which arteries, veins and blood vessels become tangled and steal blood from the brain.

She went home for Christmas and her 38th birthday on New Year's Eve.

Bobbie di Sabatino, 56, Moloney's mother, was at the medical center on a waiting list for a heart transplant. She had suffered cardiac arrest in October while visiting her grandson's school on Kent Island.

She was being kept alive by medication and an aortic pump. But her physician, Dr. Ronald Freudenberger, said her prognosis was "very dim." Without a transplant, she had less than a 50 percent chance of survival.

In mid-January, Cheryl Bradshaw returned to the medical center for 19 hours of surgery. By then, the mass of tangled arteries and veins in her head had grown to the size of an orange.

AVM, says Cheryl's surgeon, Dr. Marc J. Simard, is found in about one in 10,000 people. It usually is treated by surgery or radiation. In Cheryl's case, surgery was the only option.

For two days, she seemed to be recovering normally, her husband says. Then her head began to bleed. She was put into a light coma and placed on full life support. The bleeding turned into hemorrhaging and she went back into surgery. She was in a coma for eight more days.

"I sat there and held her hand for 50 hours straight," Bob Bradshaw says, "waiting to see her wake up."

About that same time, he and Carman Moloney got to know each other better as they talked about Cheryl and Bobbie.

"You make friends with a lot of people in the waiting room," Bradshaw says. "You talk, you pray for one another. Everyone kind of leans on everyone else."

Moloney, who had been going to the hospital almost daily for four months, "didn't think I could cry any more tears. Then I met Bob. You get to thinking that you have it hard. But then you meet someone else who has it harder."

"Every so often," she says, "we'd have a good day."

Eventually, Cheryl began to improve. She couldn't speak, but she could open her eyes. She would squeeze her children's hands to let them know she recognized them. Once, she puckered her lips to kiss her daughter Kristen goodbye.

Her improvement lasted 12 days. In early February, a massive hemorrhage put Cheryl back on life support.

A rare offer

On Feb. 12, Bradshaw and Moloney saw each other again in the visitors' lounge. Moloney had been to Annapolis, testifying for a bill that could increase organ donations in Maryland. She and her mother, and most of their family, had been organ donors for years. Now she was an advocate.

When Bradshaw returned to his wife's room, a nurse told him that "She's probably going to go tonight." Badly shaken, he says, "I went downstairs to get some air and I saw Carman."

"I need to talk to you," he said. "They tell me Cheryl may not make it through the night. If and when she goes, I'd like your mother to get her heart."

Moloney didn't believe it could happen. "What are the odds of my meeting him, of him and I knowing each other, and this working?" she says. "What are the odds that this was going to be a good heart for my mom?

"And I still couldn't believe that Bob had offered this chance for my mother."

Moloney went looking for Freudenberger, of the hospital's cardiac transplant program and her mother's cardiologist. "I found him on a stairwell and told him what Bob had told me."

Freudenberger told Moloney that the offer would have to be handled by the national Transplant Resource Center. He also cautioned her that it would be "emotionally more difficult" for her and her family than the usual anonymous donation.

When Cheryl Bradshaw died that evening, her family met with transplant officials and arranged the donation.

'No food after midnight'

Later that night, Moloney says, a new order was written on Bobbie di Sabatino's medical chart: "No food after midnight." She was being prepped for surgery.

Sometime before daylight, Bradshaw found himself at the door to di Sabatino's room. As he opened it, he says, he saw her sitting up in bed saying her rosary. They had never met, but Carman had told her of Cheryl's death -- and of Bob's offer.

"Are you Bob?" di Sabatino said, as he entered her room.

"Yes," he said.

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