Second in an occasional series
As a student nurse, Lynette Cardall knew enough about severe health problems to realize the gravity of her decision to marry a man with congenital heart disease.
Her father, left a widower when Lynette was only 8 years old, had often told her "the hardest thing I ever did was lose your mom." So when she told him she wanted to marry Paul Cardall — knowing her fiance's chances of dying young — her father reminded her of his own difficult life experience.
"Just make sure you think about the decision," he counseled.
"Back then I thought to myself, 'I can let Paul go and try to find someone else but would always wonder what it would be like,'" she said. "But anyone in my shoes, if they truly loved the person, would still choose to do it.
"If the whole package wasn't there, I could have let it go and found someone else, but Paul is such a great guy, I felt like it was worth the risk."
Several years, a young daughter and multiple hospital visits later, Lynette Cardall now waits each day for word that a human heart has become available. On the list for a heart transplant after a lifetime of dealing with a heart condition called tricuspid atresia, her husband — an LDS musician whose friends are rallying Monday for a benefit concert — has joined his faith with hers, and that of family and friends, in the hope of extending his life. (See accompanying box.)
Years ago, when they were newly married, it was tempting to think things would never come to this. But then again, theirs hasn't been a routine relationship.
"When we got engaged and were trying to choose a date to be married, Paul left me a note and asked which date I wanted. "Oh, by the way, we have insurance," he added as a postscript.
"Some couples may not be worried about that, but I was raised that you prepare for the worst. You get an education so you can support yourself or your family, and I always knew I wanted to be able to support myself."
As a nurse at Intermountain Medical Center, Lynette now finds herself the family breadwinner — a role she has parlayed into something more than a paycheck. "As a nurse, it's a blessing in that I can be an advocate for him because I know what's going on," even though "sometimes I feel like I've had enough medicine."
She knew going in she would likely play this role. At age 32, it came earlier than she had hoped. "I thought it might be further down the road or that our family would be more established, but you can't ever really plan that."
She works days while Paul, who turns 36 this month, takes care of their 3-year-old daughter, Eden. "I don't like having to go to work and leave him and leave our daughter," she said. "I think being a full-time mom is a dream job. But I think it's a great blessing that I have a job and I'm at peace about that."
Yet she admits there are long days — doubts and fears that work to wear away some of the calm amid the storm. "There are days I'm not the rock I would like to be, but I know there are other things that are so much worse, and you can see others dealing with so much that it can make this look easy."
That sentiment seems to run in the family — likely born of firsthand experience with the death of other family members, and the lessons in faith and hope that come with surviving it all intact.
Duane and Margaret Cardall got word their new baby son had heart problems shortly after he was born at LDS Hospital. Within hours, doctors transferred Paul up the hill to the old Primary Children's Hospital in the Avenues, where Duane overheard a pediatric surgeon tell a colleague by phone, "This kid isn't going to make it."
As a child, Margaret lost her 3-day-old sister who had a problem with her aorta. She and her husband wondered if their baby son would meet the same fate. "The hope to prolong his life is what we had," Duane remembers. It's the same sentiment they share today in praying for a successful transplant.
Miraculously, the surgery worked.
"We were uncertain of the future — will he live for a month or a year," Duane said. "But he was home and we had regular checkups with the cardiologist." They were hopeful days for the parents of a small boy who seemed destined to defy the odds.
"Our philosophy from the very beginning was we're not going to treat him any differently or restrict him" from activities their other children enjoyed, Duane recalls. "We let him pace himself and as a result, I think he tried a lot of things" that a boy with his condition may have avoided had they expressed fear or doubt about what might happen.
As his childhood progressed and surgery followed surgery, Paul's parents believed a pacemaker that was implanted was his last chance for any kind of long-term survival. "The expected lifespan with that was 10 to 15 years, and here we are at 20-something years into it," Duane says.
The couple has watched their son grow up with scientific advances coming along at all the right times to keep him alive. It was August 2008 before Paul and his family learned that his own tired heart wouldn't last much longer despite continued treatment. He would need a transplant to survive.
For some, such news creates trauma and a constant source of stress, straining family relationships and throwing daily life into chaos. But all along, the Cardalls have determined to approach the situation "from the perspective of normalcy and not let it become a dominating, disruptive aspect of our family life," Duane explains. "We've benefited from the fact that Paul was one of eight children … and everybody had to have attention. I wonder how we would have approached it had he been an only child."
They say they're fortunate in that they've had long years to prepare for what is shortly to come. Yet no amount of preparation can fully insulate family members from the angst that comes with knowing the life of a love one is on the line.
Margaret says even now that Paul is married, when she walks into the hospital to see him "it's a physical thing for me. I get shaky and a little clammy. It took me years of going to Primary Children's to get over that, and it all came back at Christmas" last year, when Paul got a call on Christmas Eve saying a donor heart was available and he needed to get to the hospital quickly. It turned out to be a false alarm, but a good "trial run" that gave him and his family a sense of what to expect.
Because he's spent an entire lifetime being treated at Primary Children's Medical Center, that's where the transplant will take place despite his age.
Until the phone call comes, they all live for today in the knowledge that the future isn't predictable or easy. They work and wonder and love each other, even when the stress pushes their emotions to precarious peaks and deep valleys.
Lynette praises her in-laws for their strength and support and they return the favor with admiration for her decision to marry and care for the son who never was destined to become an old man.
"Now that I'm in it, sometimes it's frightening and hard," Lynette says, knowing that even a successful transplant will provide extended life of unknown duration. "Though we may not have a lifetime together, the time we will have will be amazing."
As their daughter, Eden, plays on the living room rug, both she and Paul think about how long they have to enjoy each other and what twists and turns the future will yet unfold.
"I'm so new to being a mom, I kind of feel like this is a battle I'll have to undertake as I go. I don't know that I can really prepare myself or her. We'll make the most of the time we have and hopefully it's a long time. We're trying to make the most of the relationship now and if anything does happen to Paul, we've talked at great length, done family pictures and done things to show her later that she had this great dad that loved her."
As a young mother, she holds on to something a doctor told her once when her husband was fairly healthy. "He told me that 'health problems are a walk in the park compared to some things you could be dealing with.' He was right.
"I have a fabulous marriage and an amazing friendship with Paul. These health problems really are small in respect to what we could be dealing with. I count my blessings."
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Benefit concert Monday
Fellow LDS musicians Kurt Bestor, Peter Breinholt, Ryan Shupe and the Rubber Band, Colors and Sam Payne will perform a benefit concert for Paul Cardall on Monday, April 6, at 7:30 p.m. at Cottonwood High School. Tickets are $12. A silent auction begins at 6:30 p.m. For information, see www.livingforeden.com