Our story begins in the fall of our sophomore year at Penn State University (PSU) when Greg invited me to lunch at a favorite campus sub shop and asked if he could pursue my heart. I had been fighting my growing attraction to him over the previous weeks because dating did not fit into my carefully laid plans. Yet at that moment, I knew in my spirit that God was telling me to say yes and that Greg was the man that he intended for me to marry one day.
Two years later, we were newly engaged and so excited for the life that was ahead of us. Everything seemed to be going well. Like most college students, Greg felt invincible. He was in the best physical shape of his life, had a good GPA going into his senior year and was president of a Christian campus ministry. We were starting to plan our June wedding and enjoying our last season of PSU football and all the traditions that came with it.
Suddenly, life changed on October 16, 2006 when Greg hopped off his bike and immediately passed out in front of his class building. Passers-by called 911 and a student who was a trained EMT quickly arrived and began CPR. He was taken by ambulance to a near-by hospital but doctors immediately knew that he needed more help than they could give him and they began preparing to life-flight him to Allegheny General Hospital (AGH) in Pittsburgh, PA.
I was in my dorm room studying when I missed a call from Greg's mom. I listened to the first half of the message and immediately called her back, my hands shaking and my heart pounding. Somehow I got to the nearby hospital in time to give Greg (who was on a ventilator and hanging on by a thread) a kiss and tell him I loved him before watching him be wheeled out of the hospital and into the waiting helicopter as a crowd of his closest friends who had just heard the news watched from a distance.
Greg’s life was saved that day through the heroic efforts of first responders and emergency room doctors. After arriving at AGH he endured a series of tests and a defibrillator/pacemaker was implanted in his heart to prevent future cardiac arrests. At first it seemed that Greg had suffered permanent brain damage during the long minutes he was without oxygen, and we were warned that he may never fully recover. Miraculously, he recovered fully within days and just two weeks later was back at PSU, catching up on classes, working his part time jobs, and wedding planning with me. Doctors thought that his heart’s electrical problems could be easily managed with medicine and encouraged Greg that he would go on to live a long and normal lifespan.
Greg had no memory of the time surrounding his cardiac arrests but I couldn't stop thinking about it. I began to have panic attacks but didn't understand what was happening and told no one. My anxiety increased and I was constantly afraid of receiving another call that Greg's heart had stopped beating. This anxiety began affecting my health but still I told no one. I thought I should just be able to get over it. After all, we had been told that Greg would be fine.
We proceeded with our plans, graduating in May of 2007 and getting married in June. It was a joyful day and people assured us that we had already gone through the worst that life could offer -it should be smooth sailing from then on. Boy were they wrong.
That winter we joined the staff of a missions organization and began to embark on the journey of being campus missionaries together. We were so excited and absolutely loved the work that we felt like God had called us to do. For a while, seemed as if Greg's heart problems were indeed being managed well with the medication that he took daily. However, less than 2 years after his initial cardiac arrest, Greg began to have episodes where he went back into cardiac arrest and his defibrillator saved his life. Each time was terrifying and painful. And other complications were developing as well.
Specialists were brought on board and Greg underwent cardiac ablations to try to stop the ventricular tachycardia and atrial fibrillation that were making life so difficult for him. A number of other health issues developed that seemed unrelated as well, such as the need to have his gallbladder removed after enduring painful gallbladder attacks. Nothing seemed to help for very long. Greg’s health was rapidly deteriorating and no one knew why.
By the fall of 2009, Greg was diagnosed as having advanced heart failure. Based on his symptoms and tests he had undergone, his doctors determined that constrictive pericarditis was causing his heart failure and arrythmias. In January of 2010 Greg underwent open-heart surgery to remove the pericardium from around his heart. We had been told that this would finally solve all the problems that he was experiencing once and for all. It was scary to go into open-heart surgery, but we were so relieved to finally have an answer and couldn't wait for everything to be fixed.
Unfortunately, the doctors were wrong.
Once Greg’s chest was opened up and his heart was exposed, it was immediately apparent that his pericardium was fine. Instead, it was his right ventricle that was the problem. Greg’s heart could not pump adequately. He would need a heart transplant.
Greg was listed for a heart transplant while in the hospital recovering from his sternotomy and began the long road of recovering his strength so that he would be strong enough to undergo a transplant when a heart became available. Over the months of waiting. Greg’s heart grew weaker. He was hospitalized many times for short stays and small procedures all meant to keep his heart failure under control while he waited, but again, nothing worked. Finally, he was admitted to the hospital in October 2010 where he would stay until a heart became available. At this point, he was told that he would die within the year without a new heart.
This was a terrifying time for us. We were scared of the risks and awful statistics associated with a heart transplant. We grieved all the ways that being a transplant recipient would permanently change our lives and preclude many of our dreams. We were shocked to find how short Greg's life might be even in the best case scenario. But, he would not survive without a transplant. During this season, our faith in Jesus was tested immensely as we experienced fear, depression and anxiety.
On November 25, 2010, Thanksgiving Day, Greg was woken up by his nurses who told him that a heart had become available and they were going to start getting him ready for his transplant! There was a mix of relief, fear, and joy as family members began flying in from different states to support us through the surgery and initial recovery.
By 2am on November 26th, Greg’s new heart was beating in his chest. Friends and family around the country rejoiced at the news that Greg had been given this gift of life and a second chance. It was an answer to many, many prayers and a clear indication that God had more planned for Greg in this life. I had been so afraid that Greg would be the 1/10 who die during the procedure. It felt like the weight of the world had been lifted on my shoulders when I was told that Greg was doing well and had a received a very healthy heart.
Recovery was a long and difficult road. The transplant had taken a huge physical toll on Greg and an emotional toll on both of us. All of this was complicated by adjusting to a new lifestyle and Greg's body being bombarded with medications that were necessary to keep him alive but had very severe side effects. Eventually, Greg regained his strength and was able to get back to the missionary work that he loved so much - albeit with a new set of restrictions and parameters that he had to live within.
In 2013, he fulfilled a long-term dream of leading the ministry that he had been involved with as a student at Penn State University’s campus and in April 2014, we experienced the greatest joy of our lives when our precious son was born. Having a child was a seemingly impossible dream that had now come true. Our child was an answer to prayer. We rejoiced that Greg, who would have likely died before turning 26, was now a father at age 28.
Greg would go on to live many more years as a husband, father and missionary. He impacted the lives of hundreds of college students as he shared his story and the way that his faith in Jesus had carried him through dark and painful times. Most importantly, he poured his life into our son - loving him and treasuring him with everything he had in him.
As time passed, Greg experienced an increasing number of health complications. He survived bouts of rejection and increasing problems with his kidneys, lungs and heart. There were ups and downs but he seemed to be stable. Suddenly, in July of 2020 his heart failure got much worse and doctors couldn't seem to agree on what to do next or even what was causing him to get worse so quickly.
On December 19, 2020, Greg very suddenly and unexpectedly died at home from heart failure. It seemed as if his body just couldn't fight anymore. He gave all he had until his last breath.