My cellphone conked out more than a year ago, and I lost access to my LinkedIn and the password to get back in, which is so “Hey Boomer.”
Recently, I recovered everything and, like an archeologist, found old LinkedIn messages. One caught my eye. It was an exchange with a young man I worked with at Year Up, a work-force development nonprofit.
I’ll call him Michael. He grew up on the South Side of Chicago and attended college in Iowa on a football scholarship. He developed a heart condition, lost his scholarship, and returned to Chicago where he worked at his mother’s home daycare.
Short on career options, Michael, at 24 years old, applied to Year Up. He was tall, smart, skinny from his heart condition, and the kindest person. He carried an embroidered bag at his side with a tube connected to his heart.
He had a goal of running a marathon, which didn’t sound realistic, but he would say, “One day.”
Michael completed Year Up after interning at a company. He was a good listener and converser, so Year Up hired him to work in admissions. A work-from-home angle helped because he had been placed on a heart transplant waiting list.
In 2019, his heart got worse, but as he told me, that was a good thing. He was moving up the transplant list. Michael got his new heart at Northwestern Hospital that summer. A few days later, we exchanged messages.
He wrote: “So grateful and surreal. It makes no sense. Can’t even put into words what’s going through my head. No more limitations.” He told me to get ready for marathon training. He recovered and returned to his admissions job.
Then lots of things happened. One was the pandemic. After it started in spring 2020, I left my job at Year Up. I heard that Michael caught COVID last summer. Anyone with a heart transplant is the definition of an immune-compromised person, so this was not good. But he pulled through.
Last fall, Michael got COVID again, Delta variant this time. He ended up hospitalized in ICU and ventilated. Like many COVID patients facing the end, he was unconscious for several weeks.
And then Michael died.
I couldn’t attend the funeral, but I heard about all the people who said Michael was their best friend.
Last week, I found a year old unopened LinkedIn communication from him. All it said was “Love you, Jack!” It was dated Feb. 1, 2021, around noon.
I remember that day.
While at a campfire surrounded by deep snow in the wilderness in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, I had an aortic dissection of my ascending aorta, a rare life-threatening condition that can only be treated through emergency open heart surgery (90 percent of people die before reaching the hospital and the cardio-thoracic surgeon in Wausau, Wisconsin told me that 30 percent who make it to the hospital die during surgery).
When Michael messaged me, I was ventilated and unconscious after surgery. Following a few setbacks, I am mostly recovered.
Before reading his message, I thought I had accompanied Michael on his post-heart-transplant journey. As it turns out, Michael has been accompanying me through my own near-death experience.
I carry his message on my cellphone.
He did not hear me say, love you too!