By Jeff Noble Staff writer
Six months after he received a double lung transplant, Isaac Junior Wilder was headed down Master Street in Corbin last Thursday.
His son, Aaron David Wilder, was behind the wheel. Isaac’s grandson, Isaac Wilder II was also in the car, as they headed to the city’s public library.
When they got there, the elder Wilder recalled a time when he spent his time growing up in Corbin, back when the very street they drove on looked a whole lot different.
“When I was a child, I walked up Master Street hundreds of times. I didn’t know until 10 years ago that I had relatives buried in a cemetery up there. If I could walk up that street today, I’d do it now,” said the 66-year-old man, who was born and raised in Corbin.
The ride for Wilder has had its bumps since January. He’s been in and out of the University of Kentucky Medical Center in Lexington for the last five to six months. While he went through the lung transplants with little or no pain, Wilder has suffered from bouts of depression and not wanting to eat. He has to watch what he eats because of diabetes, and there’s the danger his body could reject the new lungs, or develop infection. But Wilder says he feels well now. Well enough for a reunion, or as he puts it, “a celebration of life this weekend.”
It will be held Sunday, starting at 2 p.m., at the Disabled American Veterans (DAV) Post 158 in Keavy, near Keavy Elementary School in Laurel County. And while this time of year is filled with family gatherings and get-togethers, Wilder says there’s a purpose for the potluck celebration — especially when it comes to the reasons why he’s holding it.
“It’s a short term goal of mine. Everybody wants a family reunion. Everybody wants to go to a picnic. Obviously a lot of my family can meet up with their cousins, and those they haven’t met. And I’ve got so much to live for. My new lungs are proof of that. I want to tell people about the Kentucky Organ Donors Association (KODA) and what they did to give me a new lease on life. And about my spiritual revival with the Lord. I feel He’s using me as a medium to tell people about organ transplants and what to expect,” Wilder said last Thursday during an interview at the Corbin Public Library.
His upbeat outlook on that hot and sticky July day paled in comparison to last New Year’s Eve. Then, Wilder was suffering from pulmonary fibrosis, a disease that hardens the lungs. He was on the required test to be put on a list of lung transplant patients and passed. But on Jan. 31 of last year, Wilder’s lungs went from 50 percent capacity to zero percent. He was rushed from his Knox County home, between Woodbine and Barbourville, to Lexington, and his family was notified.
To complicate things further, his three grown children live in the Pacific Northwest region, in Vancouver, Washington — across the Columbia River from Portland, Ore. Wilder lived in Washington state and worked at Freightliner in Portland, until he retired in 2007 and moved back to Kentucky.
His son Aaron flew out east to be with his dad, who was put on an artificial lung technique called an ECMO. Aaron said the technique pulls his dad’s blood into a machine, oxygenates the blood, and returns it back to his father’s body. In time, his dad’s condition worsened. While his family waited for word on artificial lungs to match for the transplant, Wilder had a bad reaction to the medication needed for the artificial lungs. And his body was shutting down.
Good news came from the doctors. Two artificial lungs were located in Mississippi, and were flown to Lexington.
His son Aaron recalled when the family waited.
“The doctors were preparing to prep dad for the lungs. And that time, my dad was saying he was prepared to meet his maker. He was ready to die.”
“Between Jan. 1st and Jan. 13th, I didn’t know if I was going to live. I was at peace during that time, and I went into a sleep. I had a taste of heaven, and I was ready to go,” Wilder noted.
When he awakened, Wilder saw two of the physicians, Dr. Charles Hoopes and Dr. Enrique Diaz, as well as Aaron. It was time for the transplant.
“My son said to me, ‘Dad, if the lungs do not work, do you want to be resuscitated? Do you want to be put on life support?’ And I said, ‘No. I want the lungs.’”
“It was either ‘Get me the lungs,’ or, ‘Let me go,’” stated Aaron.
The double lung transplant was a success. Two days later, Wilder was up and about.
He hasn’t forgotten his new lease on life.
“I call myself a ‘Trice-Born Man’. I was born with my mother, born again spiritually, and born again with these new lungs…I’m going to use this Sunday’s celebration to promote the organ donor program. I’m considered an ambassador to KODA, and we’ll have a lot of information there for people to look at. I want to see my family members and friends sign up as organ donors, because a lot of people are dying because there’s no transplants available,” Wilder said.
If all goes as planned, he’ll have quite a few folks showing up in Keavy this Sunday. Wilder says he has over 100 relatives through four generations.
“Expand that out, and there’s hundreds more. And I have over a hundred people on my Facebook page who’s saying they’ll attend.”
Wilder’s looking forward to the festivities. To the friends and families he’ll see, along with their stories about what they do, where they live now, how their family’s growing, and especially the lives they live.
Each one a simple gift to savor — a gift of celebrating another day of life.
That includes a summertime favorite Wilder’s having on the menu Sunday.
“Smoked chicken on the grill. A friend of mine, a Mason named Boyd Wilson, will be doing the cooking, and he’ll use 40 of those chickens to smoke on the grill. I wish my appetite was better, but I’m looking forward to eat a bit of that. And to tell my story.”