Marion man taken off transplant list

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Gerald Kelsey?s heart condition forced him to resign as director of the county?s for road and bridge department 31⁄2 years ago. His progress toward recovery since then has been ?amazing,? he says.

Gerald Kelsey, 64, Marion, is off the list to receive a heart transplant after more than three years of heart problems, and he?s thankful.

He?s thankful for his faith in God, for family, friends and medical attention. But he is also thankful for the interview that produced this article because he has a message.

?Don?t give up, never give up, just keep on going,? said Kelsey about the challenge of dealing with difficult problems. ?If I had given up, I?d be dead.

?Giving up is death.?

He thanks one person especially for helping him be the person he is today and for urging him not to give up. That?s his wife, Sharon.

He credits Sharon with being the one who told him, after enduring such things as by-passes and having his heart shocked back into rhythm, to get up every morning, get dressed, get ready for the day.

He never was told to lay in bed and be miserable thinking about his condition. That?s the discipline and thinking that also helped him start walking, the physical act that did the most to save him, Kelsey said.

At first it was a trial just to get up out of his chair, Kelsey said. Then he decided to walk a block, exerting himself to the point that he was gasping for breath so badly that he wondered if he would make it back home.

But the next time, Kelsey said, walking the block was a little easier. He extended into a second block. After 18 months, he now walks two miles daily. To see him get up from his chair and move around easily in his home, a person would never know he?d had a problem.

Kelsey, a life-long Marion resident, served as Marion County Road and Bridge director for nine years before his heart condition forced him to retire 31⁄2 years ago. Nine or 10 years before his retirement, he had quadruple bypass surgery.

Even though being Road and Bridge director could be stressful, Kelsey said he?d always enjoyed being ?a small town guy,? and knowing everybody. He liked learning new things in his work, and getting to know even more people.

?But I?d had rheumatic fever in high school. My cardiologist, Dr. Beck, said there was a lot of damage to my heart from it.

?Before my surgery, looking at my heart, he didn?t know how many heart attacks I must have had. When they looked at my X-ray, my heart was so enlarged, he said they couldn?t see my lungs. I couldn?t get up from my chair and walk anywhere afterwards without my arms just killing me.?

He endured numerous obstacles. Kelsey had to get special permission from his insurance carrier, Blue Cross-Blue Shield, to be a transplant candidate at St. Francis because it normally doesn?t use that hospital.

He couldn?t drive during those three years because he was too weak or too confused. Most of the time Sharon or his brother, Bud, who also lives in Marion, drove him.

He said he had to meet with psychologists to make sure his attitudes stayed up to make it through transplant surgery. Every three months, Kelsey said, an instrument was inserted in his carotid artery for doctors to look at his heart.

All of that is over now.

Kelsey said the surgeons tell him he is the only one of three or four St. Francis candidates on the transplant list to go off of it. They?ve done transplants for 15 years. He?s a rarity.

?It was amazing,? he said.

Even afterward, when Kelsey was able to walk up into the stands to see his grandson play football, he didn?t want to stop to catch his breath because he knew people would be watching.

He gave up golf. He loved fishing, but with added impetus from Sharon who worried about him out in a boat, he got rid of his boat. Bud still takes him in his boat for for walleye and large mouth bass, and does some dock fishing. ?We eat a lot of fish, and I have to eat that or poultry instead of beef,? Kelsey said. ?I was one of those guys who liked to eat all the fat with my pork chop.?

Kelsey faced warning signs of his heart?s condition.

Was it frightening?

?You know it was when it was happening,? Kelsey replied. ?But I really accepted it well. I didn?t get depressed. I could have given up, and like I said, I would have been dead three years ago. I?ve had lots of support.?

Kelsey said much of the time two or three family members would accompany him on trips to the hospitals. Sharon has always been there for him through everything, he said.

So have his children, Kristine, 43, Salina, grandmother of his first great-grandchild; Kerry, 41, and his wife, Laurie, Marion County Lake; and Mike, 39, and his wife, Jennifer, Wichita. Kelsey said the addition of his nine grandchildren ?definitely have given me something to live for.?

He is from a family of nine children himself, and Sharon from a family of eight children at Durham, Kelsey said, so there has been a large extended family to offer support, too.

One sister-in-law, Margie Ensminger who lives in Louisiana, even bought him a large screen television to enjoy one of his favorite pastimes, watching sports.

Kelsey said he received many prayers through the Lutheran Church in Marion where he and Sharon are members, as well as from other congregations in town. He?s also thankful for the many cards and letters he received.

Kelsey mainly credits his walking and the medical doctors for his recovery. But he also credits a regimen of taking seven or eight medications, especially one called Coreg. He also believes an over-the-counter supplement has contributed greatly to increasing his heart health, a substance called CoQ10.

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