Click here to view in a gallery.
GOSHEN - Questions remain.
"I don't know why I got it," says Ken Horst, attacked by a disease that essentially rendered his original ticker useless, necessitating a heart transplant just last month. "My mother wanted to know why I had to be the one to get (the ailment) and there's no real answer to the why question."
And now, the long-time Goshen High School physics and chemistry teacher is left somewhat humbled, not that he was ever arrogant.
"I'm used to control," he said. "I had no control over the events."
Call it what you will, a test of the spirit, a near-death experience, but the turn of events, not surprisingly, left a mark. Now - on leave from teaching for a year, someone else's heart thumping inside of him, six holes in his abdomen yet to fully heal - Horst, 60, focuses on the here and now.
Don't get him wrong. He feels pretty good, all things considered. And he's learned two big lessons - one, be grateful for what you've got and two, there are things you can't control, no matter what.
Death, pumps or a new heart
Tell him last January that he'd end up in the hospital, end up needing a new heart, and Horst may have said you were crazy. He played raquteball regularly and considered himself to be in excellent shape, 150 pounds of lean muscle.
Then, after a game of raquetball late last April, he noticed his heart just wouldn't settle down, It was doing 183 beats a minute.
He ended up with a defibrilator tucked away inside his chest. Such devices are supposed to give the heart a little jolt when it starts acting up, shock it into a normal rhythm, and it worked. Problem is his heart - jolted five times by the thing within a half hour a few days after getting it - didn't respond.
This time it was down to Indianapolis to Methodist Hospital, where Horst learned the grim truth. He had giant cell myocarditis, a disease in which a body's own immune system, for reasons unknown, begins attacking the heart.
"It's like your heart muscle is turning to cartilage, which is not good news," he said. In fact, the disease was converting his heart into "rubbery material." he said, and his choices, doctors advised, were death, artificial pumps or a new heart.
'Crying and crying'
The new pumps where his heart had been kept him alive, but it was no way to live. They were attached to a machine in his hospital room via tubes coming out of his abdomen. In all he ended up with six holes in his gut, two for the pumps and the others for tubes to drain the stuff that would build up on his insides.
"They had wires and tubes and IVs and pump hose and all that sort of stuff," he said. "When I wanted to walk, it was quite a sight."
Then he just waited for a transplant, not knowing if a viable donor heart would become available in a week or several months. Just waited, thought about the artificial pumps, the tubes coming out of him, his wife and kids, his weakened heart.
"You think about trying to deal with that," said Horst who has three children with wife Becky, an associate registrar at Goshen College.
He was put top on the priority list for a donor heart, and then someone with O-negative blood, Horst's type, died, allowing him to live.By 3 p.m. on July 8, all the testing showed the donor heart would be a good match and "then I just started crying and crying and crying," Horst said. The surgery started around 10 p.m.
A day at a time
He's not the only one who's ever gotten a heart transplant. There have been 13 such procedures at Methodist Hospital alone so far this year, Horst said.
It's a rarefied club, though, and the months-long ordeal since his first hospital trip last April has left him 25 pounds lighter. The new norm is a daily cocktail of pills to control potential complications from the transplant and rest and moderate exercise to build his strength and weight. Forget about raquetball, now and maybe forever, though he looks forward to returning to the classroom at Goshen High School, where he's taught for 23 years and served as rocket club advisor.
"I'm still weak and my muscles are like noodles," Horst said. "But things are going OK."
Significantly, he's surrounded by friends, family and a strong support group so it's not like it's him against the world. Still, it's a new norm and he continues to adjust.
"You take things one day at a time. You try to deal with the things you have to deal with today," said Horst.