MOUNT OLYMPUS — Exactly one year from the minute Brian Cardall's heart stopped beating, his brother Paul's new heart allowed him stand on top of Mount Olympus Wednesday and thank God for both their lives.
"We got to the peak at 1 p.m., and it was 1:10 p.m. a year ago when Brian was killed. We didn't even plan that, but we got there and realized it," said Paul Cardall, a local musician who took an emotional roller coaster ride along with his extended family last year. As Paul's monthslong wait for a heart transplant continued last June 9, his brother Brian was Tasered by a Hurricane police officer, who was called to the side of a rural highway.
Brian had shed his clothes in a manic episode and was running naked on the road. His wife had called 911. The Taser was deployed and Brian died.
His family, including brother Paul, was devastated by his loss. But their emotional ride took a sharp turn upward in September, when doctors at Primary Children's Medical Center replaced Paul's sick and tired heart with that of a 19-year-old donor.
He and his family viewed the event as a miracle, and Paul vowed his first day back home that he would climb Mount Olympus on the anniversary of his brother's death, as both a tribute to the lost life and the triumph of a new chapter in his own journey.
On the summit, Paul told the family and friends who accompanied him that he wanted to say a prayer "of gratitude for Brian and his life. … It was very simple, with thanks 'for our experience with Brian, knowing him and all his accomplishments and understanding how proud he would be of us.' "
The climb "was exactly what he would have wanted us to do," Paul said.
After the prayer, "I sat and listened to (Brian's) music, took some photos and just really had a great experience."
The bulk of the climbing party celebrated both Brian's life and Paul's triumph, as Brian's widow climbed the west face of the peak via rope with three of her husband's friends. "He did a lot of mountain climbing and back-country skiing with those guys."
Though some of his doctors at Primary Children's Medical Center had wondered aloud whether Paul could actually make the climb less than a year after the transplant, cardiologist Angela Yetman not only believed he could do it, "she started up the mountain after we did and caught up with us," he said.
In fact, Yetman checked Paul's heartbeat and oxygen saturation levels twice during the hike. His pulse was higher than most of those among the four dozen or so family and friends who accompanied him.
"Never in my life have I done something this wild. It was like climbing stairs for two miles, then the air up there is really thin. When I started huffing and puffing, I started looking for my oxygen tank," which accompanied him for so long before the transplant that it became second nature to him.
"It's phenomenal how strong he is and how much energy he has," said his father, Duane, who stayed by Paul's side as they swapped life analogies during the climb. "The difficulty for him is not his breathing or his heart, it's the muscles that have atrophied over the years," as congenital heart disease slowly stole his stamina.
Before Wednesday, the farthest Paul had hiked up the mountain was .7 miles last week. "I said to myself, 'what in the world am I doing?' because I was miserable. But having my family here with all the support — that's how you climb."
Paul said though he misses Brian greatly — as do the colleagues who have put together an endowment and lectureship in his name at Northern Arizona University — "I think he enjoyed today with us. I felt him and also my donor," whom he also mourned deeply.
"Some of this day was for my donor, too. I often feel those two are paying attention to me and encouraging me." As he trudged back down the trail, there was a sense of triumph, with one goal behind him and others of a different sort ahead. As he finishes a book about his experiences, he's still trying to decide what the new mountains might be.
"I feel amazing. I'm tired, but I couldn't be happier. It's been a good day to remember."
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