With a new heart beating in his chest, Paul Cardall beats odds yet again

Published: Friday, Sept. 11 2009 12:00 a.m. MDT

Paul Cardall

Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News

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Sixth in an occasional series.

From tragedy to destiny in just over 90 days.

That's what family, friends and fans of LDS musician Paul Cardall were struck by Thursday morning, with word that his long-awaited heart transplant was successfully performed at Primary Children's Medical Center.

At 36, Cardall was the oldest Utah patient with congenital heart disease to have survived to his age without a transplant. Cardiologist Angela Yetman said she's "never seen anything like" Cardall's determination to keep living and the optimism he has.

"He's come through this as if he hasn't had cardiac surgery. He's sitting up in bed talking and making jokes," she said Thursday. "I think he's benefitting from everybody's prayers and his own faith. He's got me convinced. I've known him for the last year, and I certainly can't find a better explanation."

It's a story a novelist might conjure up, but for Cardall and his family, it's another adventure in a life so surprising to medical personnel that the heart surgeon who thought Cardall would likely die as an infant made his way to the hospital for congratulations.

The donor heart was implanted by surgeons little more than three months after Cardall's brother, Brian Cardall, died June 9 next to a highway in southern Utah. Police had Tasered him when he was found running naked there during an episode of mental illness.

Though the Cardalls have long been grateful for the hope offered through organ donation, Brian Cardall's death put the entire family squarely into the shoes of donor families who make the decision to give organs and tissue from deceased loved ones to others. Today, they empathize in a visceral, palpable way.

Though Brian Cardall's manner of death didn't allow for organ donation, he was able to donate other tissue and bone, his father said. Noting the entire family has long prayed for those who are now experiencing their own grief so Paul Cardall could have a chance to live, his father Duane Cardall had a message Thursday for the donor's family, whom they will never meet. Confidentiality agreements prohibit the release of any information on the donor.

"We hope they experience the same degree of comfort that we experienced when Brian was able to become a donor," he told the Deseret News shortly after seeing his son in the recovery room, listening to his iPod.

It's the yin and yang of going from being a donor family to being recipients of the same kindness that prompted at least one friend who learned of the transplant to quip simply: "Miracles happen."

Paul Cardall's wife, Lynnette Cardall, said when her husband was first listed for a transplant in August 2008, "we felt a sense of guilt that someone's sorrow was going to be our joy. But I know many who have gone through this experience that were very grateful they could donate. It's one wonderful, final thing they could do for their loved one."

She said watching her husband being wheeled out of his room and into surgery was a different experience from the "false alarm" they had last Christmas Eve, when he was prepped and wheeled in for surgery, only to be told the heart wouldn't be available.

"At the time, I wondered if I had said everything I wanted to say, and does he realize how grateful I am for him and what if I can't express that later," she said.

"There was a sense of peace this time. We all felt it was going to go fine, and I didn't have those worries. I don't know if it's because we had more time to share those feelings," she said. "He had lots of odds against him, and with how incredibly risky the surgery was, his will to live and do more with his life was stronger and overpowered those odds."

Cardall's surgeons told the Deseret News several months ago that his will to live was a big factor in their hope for his future.

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