Testimony – my transplant story

by Pastor Jim Westgate.

This testimony is the text of Jim Westgate’s message to his church on his first Sunday back in the pulpit.


It’s been over two years since I stood in this pulpit and it’s been a long journey, which led to the doors of death and back. This past Wednesday my twin brother, Chuck and his wife Sandy and my older brother Ron and his wife Mary joined Nancy and I as we celebrated our 61st birthday. It was a time of great celebration because six months ago that was looking very doubtful.

It was just one year ago this past August that we stood by the bedside of my older brother Ron and wondered if he would make his 61st birthday. He was failing fast and had to have a heart within 24 hrs. The heart didn’t come and they had to put him on a heart pump machine. 14 days later he received a heart and is doing extremely well.

As a matter of fact we both spoke at a Golden Donor breakfast this past Thursday in Stanford. The attendees were people who have given over 100 or 200 pints of blood. One of the donors was a retiree of Lockheed and said his goal was to give 60 gallons of blood and was working on 59 right now.

My brother called me the day before the breakfast and told me that he woke up in the night with some inspirational ideas for his talk. And began to share them with me. They were great and he did a great job.

It reminded me of a time right after my heart transplant. I was struggling to sleep so I was reflecting and praying in the early hours of the morning. It was such an incredible experience to just talk with the Lord then all of a sudden I got this most wonderful chicken recipe. Now I don’t know what this says about his spirituality and mine. However, I have made the chicken recipe and it was great. We now call it “Jim’s Divine Chicken.” I just wish the Lord would give me 10 or 12 more recipes and I could publish a Divine Recipe Book.

This morning I want to share with you a recipe of things that really sustained us through this incredible journey. I get the question:

How did you and Nancy do it?

How did you cope and survive this kind of pressure?

Let me say here that it was much harder on Nancy than me because she had to face all of the tough decisions while I was trying to survive with heavy dosages of drugs.

First Ingredient is the Power of Christ, 2 Cor. 12:9-10

And He said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you for power is perfected in weakness.” Most gladly, therefore I will rather boast about my weaknesses, that the power of Christ may dwell in me. Therefore, I am content with weaknesses, with insults and distresses, with persecutions with difficulties for Christ’s sake; for when I am weak, then I am strong.

Jesus provided Power to Face Deterioration

1999 was a year of dying: – Angiogram/angioplasty, two cardioversions/ pacemaker and two near death toxic reactions to medication.

May of 2000 – Redwood City and diagnosis of left ventricle failing rapidly and needed a heart transplant

June 8, 2000 – We spent our wedding anniversary at Stanford. Lawrence and Jean let us use their cottage in Carmel

June 14, 2000 – Defibrillator installed, put on transplant list, 1-B. Ejection factor of the heart less than 15% – need transplant very soon – next scheduled visit on June 28. Heart going into short runs of ventricular tacardia – defib did not fire. Nancy wanted take me to Stanford early because of dramatic decline.

Jesus provided Power to Face the Darkness

June 28 – Went to Stanford with plan to enter hospital and wait for a new heart. If something happened they would be able to handle it.

Mass on the Kidney – 99.9 % cancerous – Hard to survive transplant with one kidney

I was taken off transplant list – have to be cancer free 3-5 yrs.

I was pushing rules because of Malignant Melanoma 2 yrs prior.

I would be the first person to have installation of internal LVAD -20% chance of lasting 3-5 yrs. Very high-risk surgery with weakened heart

Jesus provided Power to Face Death

Son and Daughter flew in and brothers gathered – possible good bye.

Sat down with Nancy and planned my funeral

Wrote letters to Nancy, Jim and Terri

July 5th the operation – didn’t have to take the whole kidney, removed just the mass. Miracle #1.

Had to wait 7 days for pathology report – darkest time

July 12th Pathology report – Urologist came in with a smirk on his face and said, “I have good news, No! I have very good news. The mass was a rare type of benign tumor, Miracle #2.

Nurses, and doctors streamed into our room to rejoice and celebrate.

Put back on the Transplant list. Recovery was very quick and by July 25th released from hospital to wait for a heart. Extremely weak and wearing a fanny pack with a dopamine pump to keep me alive. Nancy and I talked in the late hours of the evening talking about the fragileness of life and could I survive another operation this soon.

July 26, 10:15 p.m. call saying a new heart was available

July 27 at 3:00 a.m. I received the heart of a 32 year old male who had been killed in a motorcycle accident. Miracle #3

Aug. 3 – Just seven days later I left the hospital

Son called that night and told us we had a new baby granddaughter Miracle #4 I had a biopsy on Thursday and I got a 0 which means no rejection – this means I love my heart and my heart loves me.


The Second Ingredient is the People of Christ – the Kingdom Community

We talk a lot about being a community or being the body of Christ and when one hurts we all hurt, and where we bear each other’s burdens. A kingdom community is where kingdom values of empathy, love, compassion, healing, sacrificing and helping are demonstrated among the people of Christ.

God never designed us to be loners in this world but to be part of a caring community where we mutually give and receive kingdom benefits. Nancy and I would not have survived without a fantastic support group of God’s people. We saw people in the hospital that had no support group and they crashed and burned in depression, despair and hopelessness. The roller coaster is so great you have to have someone there to help you handle the emotional and physical terror.

Someone to be there when you face devastating news and feel hopeless and helpless.

Someone with whom you can process your doubts and uncertainties.

Someone to talk with about your fragileness and mortality.

Someone to just cry with when emotions need to be released.

Someone to rejoice with when the miracles occur.

We found that in the communities we have been part of.


My personal family –

Brothers and their families, son and daughter Nancy’s parents – inlaws and outlaws all came forward to lend emotional and physical support

Northwest community

Zeta and Mike Williams – who took care of our garden and ate all of our tomatoes

Jerry and Marlene Verner – visited us and took us away from the medical environment in their new camper, to laugh and just relax

Logos Class – who sent cards, who called, who brought gifts of happiness. Hardly a day went by when I did not receive cards

The Seminary community

Ray and Betty Bystrom – my colleague and very close friend. Ray will share a little later this morning.

Jim Pankratz – My Dean – constantly called, visited and assured me I still had a job to come back to.

Henry Schmidt – President – who visited and brought books and encouragement

Faculty members and students scattered around the world who sent cards – the walls of my room were covered with cards from all over the world.

The Body of Christ in Fresno and Churches all across the country


The third ingredient is the Presence of Christ

The miracles were exciting and overwhelming but we still had to face the reality – what if the miracle did not happen. How would we face that reality? We were confident the Lord was with us even if the miracles did not occur. Christ demonstrated His presence to us through the Word of God. Isa. 43:2-3 – When my mother was dying of cancer, this was a verse that was so powerful for her and for us.

When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and when you pass through the rivers they will not sweep over you. When you walk through the fire, you will not be burned; the flames will not set you ablaze. For I am the Lord, your God, the Holy One of Israel, your Saviour.

Ps. 91:11-16 – Night before heart transplant 26th

For He will give His angels charge concerning you, To guard you in all your ways.

They will bear you up in their hands, that you do not strike your foot against a stone.

You will tread upon the lion and cobra, the young lion and the serpent you will trample down.

“Because he has loved Me, therefore I will deliver him; I will set him securely on high, because he has known My name.

“He will call upon Me, and I will answer him; I will be with him in trouble; I will rescue him and honor him.

“With a long life I will satisfy him and let him see My salvation.”


Ps. 92:1 was the Psalm for day of the transplant – 27th

It is good to give thanks to the LORD and to sing praises to Your name, O Most High;


Psalm 30: – Lawrence Preston called and said read Ps. 30.

Psalm 30

Thanksgiving for Deliverance from Death.

1 I will extol You, O LORD, for You have lifted me up, a ndhave not let my enemies rejoice over me.

2 O LORD my God, I cried to You for help, and You healed me.

3 O LORD, You have brought up my soul from Sheol; You have kept me alive, that I would not go down to the pit.

4 Sing praise to the LORD, you His godly ones, and give thanks to His holy name.

5 For His anger is but for a moment, His favor is for a lifetime; Weeping may last for the night,

but a shout of joy comes in the morning.

6 Now as for me, I said in my prosperity, “I will never be moved.”

7 O LORD, by Your favor You have made my mountain to stand strong; You hid Your face, I was dismayed.

8 To You, O LORD, I called, and to the Lord I made supplication:

9 “What profit is there in my blood, if I go down to the pit? Will the dust praise You? Will it declare Your faithfulness?

10 “Hear, O LORD, and be gracious to me; O LORD, be my helper.”

11 You have turned for me my mourning into dancing; You have loosed my sackcloth and girded me with gladness,

12 That my soul may sing praise to You and not be silent

O LORD my God, I will give thanks to You forever.


Three Spiritual Ingredients for Facing the Traumas of Life

The Power of Christ

The People of Christ

The Presence of Christ


These will keep you from crashing and burning in despair, hopelessness and helplessness God not only ministered to us during this time but used our situation to minister to others.

To read Stanford article Three Brothers and the Gift of Life.







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