Awful wait ends, as time runs out for `Little Giant'

June 27, 2000|By Michael Olesker

As time ran out on Howard Golden, he seemed on fire to talk. He was chief judge of the Orphans' Court for Baltimore City, so he wanted to talk about court business. He had worked in the juvenile courts, so he wanted to talk about all those lost children. Or he wanted to talk about the awful business of waiting for a heart.

"Not just my heart," he would say. "Anybody's heart. Anybody who's waiting for a heart, you don't know the terrible time they have waiting because the whole procedure's so bad."

He was an expert at waiting. He had his first heart transplant in the fall of 1993, and his second one a couple of weeks ago. The first surgery went fine, but the aftermath was awful. His arteries did 30 years worth of clogging in less than five years.

So, two years ago, the doctors told him he would need another transplant or face the end of his life. OK, Golden said, dreading the inevitable, let's do it again.

And the waiting commenced: not for any heart, but one that would fit his chest - he was a diminutive 5 feet, 6 inches, 135 pounds - and one that would arrive while there was still time, while Golden was not only alive but still healthy enough to survive such traumatic surgery.

Two weeks ago, after a long and dreadful wait, a replacement heart arrived - but Golden, 58, never got out of Johns Hopkins Hospital. He died Wednesday. The new heart seemed to be working, but his kidneys shut down and infections set in, and his exhausted body quit.

The news was stunning. For much of his life, Howard Golden's friends called him The Little Giant. In his teens, he joined the B'Nai B'rith youth group AZA and wound up president of a national district.

He was a pretty good athlete, too. An old friend, Gary Levin, remembers a touch football league practice, his first one, where he rushed the quarterback. Golden, playing blocking back, knocked him off his feet. Then, picking him up, Golden introduced himself: "I may be little, but I'm strong."

He had a streak of adventure in him, too. In his 20s, he and some friends traveled cross country on motorcycles.

One fellow, Steve Jacobs, now living in California, remembered, "I took a spill on gravel, and he did more than pick me up and dust me off. He had the nerve, where I had none, to tell me to get off my butt and back on the bike and keep going. I was trembling, and he was confident. I got back in the saddle because he told me to do it. It gave me a confidence not only for the bike, but for living, that I didn't come by so naturally."

"He always seemed like the most self-confident guy," added Murray Loew, professor at George Washington University's Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering, who grew up with Golden. "It wasn't until much later that he said, `No, no, I've got all these insecurities. I'm as insecure as everybody else."

"When he was a public defender in the Juvenile Court system," said another old friend, Gene Bober, "he was always venting about the evils and inequities of the justice system."

"Some of those kids," added Steve Blumberg, "had no clean clothes, no place to sleep. Howard made sure they were taken care of. He went way beyond the job."

Golden had his first heart attack in 1984 and survived a quadruple bypass. Rushed from the Clarence M. Mitchell Jr. Courthouse to Mercy Hospital, he told doctors, "I don't have the time for a heart attack." When the doctors told him to calm down, he said, "Am I gonna die?" They wouldn't answer him.

Years later, he remembered: "So I'm sitting there in the emergency room, making a deal with God: `Let me live long enough to raise my kids. Let them be adults before you take me, and I'll go quietly.'"

Last fall, as he waited for his second transplant, he said, "I guess God kept his end of the deal."

His grown son and daughter were there last week, along with his brother and sister and his mother Rose, when Golden was buried at the Arlington Cemetery on Rogers Avenue.

Everybody tried to remember better times. So much of the last years of Golden's life was taken up with the anxiety of waiting. Two years ago, in Annapolis, he spoke to a legislative health committee about those people who sign up to donate organs when they die. In the emotional aftermath of the would-be donor's death, the family of the deceased balks.

Golden asked, "Why should the next of kin have the right to nullify the wishes of the dearly departed? It undermines the sanctity of the right we all have to decide on the disposition of our earthly remains. Should our Orphans' Courts be permitted to overturn other testamentary gifts where the next of kin objects?"

That's what he talked about until the end arrived. He knew he was fighting the clock, but he kept thinking about the others like him. Howard Golden lived his whole life that way.

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