A Kind and Generous Heart

Christine Little - Bettendorf, Iowa
As heard on NPR’s Weekend Edition, July 6, 2008
Christine Little

When Christine Little’s teenage son had a heart transplant, she realized some other young person was dying just as her son was getting a chance to live. That selfless gift, and what her son did with it, shaped a lifelong belief for Little.

Age Group: 30 - 50

I learned my belief from my son. I believe in selfless giving.

Eight years ago, my thirteen-year-old son, Dustin, became very ill with a heart enlarged to double its size. The medical term, as unimportant as that is to a grieving mother, was cardiomyopathy. For several months Dustin lived on life support as we were forced to stand by and watch him wither away. While his friends were out playing baseball, flirting with girls, and sleeping in their own beds, my son was in a hospital bed, attached to a machine that kept his heart beating. As a mother, my first reaction after crying was anger, and then I played the bargaining game: “Take my life for his, Lord. I’ve lived my life, but he still has so much to do.”

People all around me were praying for a heart to become available, but it made me so angry and confused because I knew for that to happen, someone else’s child would have to die. How could anyone pray for that?

I still remember so clearly the morning we got the call that there was a heart. As we stood in Dustin’s hospital room watching them prep him for surgery, we experienced the true definition of bittersweet. His dad and I, seemingly in unison, realized that at the precise moment that we were standing there with so much hope and so much love, another family somewhere was saying good-bye. We knelt down together and cried, and we prayed for them and thanked them for giving such a selfless gift.

To our amazement, just ten days later, Dustin got to come home for the first time in many months. He had turned fourteen in the hospital, and at such a young age he had received a second chance at life. Over the next two years he got to go to high school, learn to drive, and have his first girlfriend. He got to spend time with his family and be in the great outdoors, which was where he truly loved to be. He put his brand new heart to good use volunteering at the homeless shelter and helping the elderly. He also became a very devoted Christian young man.

Dustin’s new heart failed him when he was sixteen. A tragedy, yes, but we have to see it as the miracle it was. We received two precious years with him that we would never have had without organ donation. We have more pictures, more memories, and a great satisfaction in knowing that he was able to experience some of the most exciting times and milestones in a teenager’s life.

When he died, as difficult as it was for us, we knew that it would be Dustin’s wish to give back. His eyes went to someone who wanted to see. Someone who, perhaps, had never seen the faces of the family they loved so dearly. I believe that one day I will look into the face of someone else’s son or daughter and I will see those sky-blue eyes looking back at me—the evidence of selfless giving.

Christine Little is a circulation clerk at the public library in Bettendorf, Iowa, where she lives with her three other children, a dog, a cat, and a very mouthy parrotlet bird. In her spare time, Ms. Little enjoys reading, writing, and relaxing on the beach with her family.

Independently produced for NPR by Jay Allison and Dan Gediman with John Gregory and Viki Merrick.