Sweethearts Tie the Knot Days Before Heart Transplant

Northwestern Medicine
Cardiology February 14, 2012
Transplant SweetheartsJust a few months ago, Jim Callahan and his wife Denise were having a difficult time seeing the light at the end of the tunnel. Jim had suffered a heart attack in 1995, followed by triple bypass surgery in 2009, and had been told he now needed a heart transplant. The news was worrisome and left them wondering if Jim would survive. But as they prepare to spend Valentine’s Day together, they realize that the journey, while difficult, strengthened their love and only made them stronger.

The couple first met in kindergarten and reunited at their 15-year middle school reunion. It wasn’t long before they knew they’d be together forever. Jim and Denise had a courthouse wedding in 1988, but always wanted to get married with a Catholic Priest officiating. After receiving the news that he would need a transplant, Jim knew it was the perfect time.

“There were a lot of emotions going on with us as I waited for a heart transplant,” said Jim Callahan. “I thought a wedding ceremony where we could renew our vows and be married by a representative of the church would be uplifting and help carry us through this time as a couple.”

So wedding bells rang…

Prior to receiving a heart transplant in mid-January, the couple was married in Jim’s room at Northwestern Memorial Hospital. While the setting may have been unusual, the celebration was every bit as joyous as they had hoped. Raquel Callanto, Jim’s nurse, took it upon herself to decorate for the occasion and purchased flowers so Denise could walk down the “aisle” with a bouquet. She also played the role of photographer at the ceremony.

“I think this made Jim and Denise very happy,” said Raquel Callanto, RN, Coronary Care Unit at Northwestern’s Bluhm Cardiovascular Institute. “I was thrilled to play a part in their wedding and to help make their day extra special.”

The wedding took place just days before Jim received his heart, and now the happy couple is moving forward. Jim is on the treadmill for 20 minutes three times a day, slowly getting back to work and enjoying the little things in life.

“I can’t say enough about how grateful I am for the care and compassion I received at Northwestern,” said Jim. “I don’t want to be known as a transplant patient. I want to be Jim Callahan and get back to my life. Everyone at Northwestern helped me do that and played a big role in pulling off our wedding.”

Jim is grateful to have a new heart and to enjoy another Valentine’s Day with Denise.
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