Jim Tom Williams Story: My family, just like every other family, has had its share of ups and downs. We have been through a lot together and we are stronger for those experiences. I am not the best writer by any means, but I would like to share the story of my dad’s health issues. I hope you will see how God’s grace and mercy has worked through our family; and how the memories we’ve shared would not have been possible without the donor family’s faith in God and their ability to give in their time of grief.
I would first like to tell you how my mother and father met, mostly because I think it is funny, but also because it shows how God was at work in their lives before they were even friends. My mother and father were both from small towns in West Tennessee. Mom was from Munford and Dad was from Mason. If you’ve ever lived in a small town you already know that everyone knows everybody and everything – unlike a large city! This is how Mom and Dad started out knowing each other – the daughter of the town doctor and the son of a successful farmer.
Tom Williams @ UT Martin
Dad began college at UT Martin in 1949. He became a member of Alpha Gamma Rho and had lots of friends; however, he didn’t date much – he already knew what he wanted! Dad had seen Mom play high school basketball and seen pictures of her in his hometown newspaper. Apparently, he fell in love immediately. Dad carried a picture of Mom in his wallet and he had her picture in his dorm room so before they had ever been “properly introduced” God had chosen them for each other.
Mom, on the other hand, dated several people before meeting Dad. One day a friend came back from UT Martin and told Mom, “I saw your picture in someone’s dorm room.” Mom asked whose room it was, but her friend didn’t know because Dad had not been in the dorm that day. Mom went on dating and did not think about what her friend had told her for some time. She began Nursing School at Baptist School of Nursing in Memphis during 1954.
The Korean War had begun, and Dad was going to be deployed. He had been at UT Marin for two years. His degree would have to wait. He was going into the Army and would be shipped across seas but there was one thing Dad could not let wait, he had to ask mom out on a date. What if he did not get to come back? This just could not wait! Dad had had a crush on Mom for a long time, but he had never asked her out.
Mom and Dad’s first date was the night before Dad was going to be shipped out. Since Dad had to get up early the next morning this was going to be a short date. Dad had to work fast if he was going to impress Mom! When Dad came to pick Mom up, he went to the door to get her and meet her family. When they were in the car, Dad gave Mom a present he had bought her. Dad did not follow the norm of giving flowers or candy. Dad was no average Joe! He had bought her a beautiful rhinestone necklace and bracelet! Mom did not know what to say about this, but she sure would not forget it. Today, she still has and treasures the two wonderful pieces.
Dad’s time in the army went along with all the regular training such as boot camp. He was a clerk, but the army wanted more from him. They asked him to go to officers training school but that would mean two more years in the army… He declined their offer.
Returning Home from War
Mom and Dad continued their correspondence while he was in the service. When he was honorably discharged, he returned home and entered UT Knoxville to finish up his last two years of college. By this time, Mom and Dad were only seeing each other and as often as possible. When he came home for Christmas break in 1955, Dad proposed to Mom with ring in hand! Of course, she said yes! Dad graduated in June of 1956, and on June 17, 1956, he and mom were married.
It is amazing to see how God’s plan unfolded into a beautiful and lasting relationship. They were meant for each other from the beginning and God had more triumphs and tragedies in store for them as they moved through life together.
After marrying, dad worked on the farm with his dad, TJ, until he got a job with the US Public Health Service as a VD investigator. Mom and Dad moved to New York and remained there for a year. They then returned home, and he began working for International Harvester. Not too long after this Dad was offered a job with Agrico and, again, Mom and Dad moved away from home. They lived in Nashville for a time but were then transferred back to Memphis with Agrico so they could be closer to their families.
In 1972, my sister was born. Dad decided he needed more life insurance, so he went in for the normal life insurance health tests. Much to my parents’ surprise, he was turned down. The insurance agent told him he had high blood pressure. Dad went to the doctor and they ran some more tests and that is when the doctors discovered his kidney problems. His kidney problems were causing the high blood pressure so something would have to be done.
For about 5 years, Dad’s health was regulated through diet — the Giovannetti Diet. At the time, doctors did not know much about this disease so the only way to control it was through diet. Dad could not eat any salty or “fatty” foods which is very hard when you’ve grown up in the South and your grandfather owns Bozo’s!
Even though Dad and Mom watch his diet closely, his kidney function continued to decline. Eventually, my dad’s kidneys stopped working. The doctors were called in again to find a solution to this problem. Luckily, medical advances had occurred and there was now a way to filter toxins from the blood. This procedure was dialysis. What a miracle! Dialysis was how Dad would be able to control his illness and continue living.
In 1977, Mom and Dad were able to buy a dialysis machine to use at home. Mom began training on Dad at Baptist Hospital Dialysis Center. She would “hook” Dad up to the machine under supervision. MawMaw would drive to town each morning to stay with me and Alicia while Mom and Dad left the house around 6am for training and treatment. Once the training was over, Mom started treating Dad at home. She would hook Dad to the machine every other day for six hours. This was a lot of work, but it was keeping Dad alive and, obviously, part of God’s plan.
Things were going along well with dialysis so in the summer of 1979 we took a vacation to Colorado. Mom had scheduled treatments at a Colorado hospital. While Dad was getting one of his treatments, the man next to him asked, “When are you getting your kidney?” Dad told him he wasn’t sure, but he was on a list. The man told Dad that he was getting his next month. Apparently, they were using an experimental medicine that had shown great success. Mom also found out the kidney disease Dad had was called Gleymaranephrytis. It seems that Denver was having great success and knew a lot about kidney disease.
We returned home from our vacation in August and on Dad’s first treatment at home he became violently sick – he would get migraine headaches and get sick to his stomach every time he was put on the machine. Dialysis would no longer be the answer for Dad’s kidney problems. Again, this was part of God’s plan!
In the meantime, Mom was working very hard to get Dr. Kelley to find out about the new procedures in Denver. Dr. Kelley did not believe in transplants as they were not very successful in the early days, so it took a bit of convincing for Mom to talk Dr. Kelley into investigating this new procedure. Finally, Dr. Kelley agreed to get in touch with Dr. Starzle and setup an appointment.
Dad and Mom traveled to Denver in December of 1979 to talk with Dr. Starzle and have some tests run. Dr. Starzle explained that the experimental drug they were using was called Cyclosporine and it had only been given to five doctors in the world! He also determined from the tests that Dad’s two blood antigens were within a range that made him eligible for a kidney transplant.
The doctors sent Mom and Dad home to have Christmas with their family along with instructions that they would call when they found a kidney. With a lot of prayers, we put Dad’s life in God’s hands and in January 1980, we got the call. They had a kidney for Dad!
Plans were made for Dad to go to Denver, but Mom was not going to be able to go because she had to stay with me and Alicia. Mom called her older brother, Richard, as I am sure she was a little worried about not going with Dad. Uncle Richard told her that Bubba, his son-in-law and Mom and Dad’s nephew, had a business trip planned for Denver. After a few phone calls, it was discovered that Bubba and Dad were on the same flight! Dad would not be going out there alone.
On February 2, 1980, Dad received a kidney. The operation was a success, and he now had a new kidney! Dad was the fifth person in the US to get a kidney using this new drug. Through the grace of God, Dad’s body did not reject the organ and he was able to overcome an infection from the surgery. (SIDE NOTE: Dad’s kidney came from a small child who died at school when he was opening a supply cabinet. There was a large container of glue on the top shelf… it fell and landed on his head.)
Every year now for five years my dad had a heart attack. The doctors told us it was because of the prednisone he took as an anti-rejection medicine. One of the side effects of prednisone is muscle deterioration, the heart is a muscle and his was deteriorating.
In 1986, Dad had his annual spring heart attack, making this his sixth. It was a miracle Dad had made it this far with that many heart attacks. That summer the doctors at Baptist Central in Memphis performed open-heart surgery on dad, giving him six bypasses. A month later, he had another heart attack.
Things were looking very grim and the doctors gave my dad two weeks to live. Again, there was only one hope… a heart transplant. no one thought Dad was strong enough to live through a heart transplant. Dr. Starzle was called. he was working in Pittsburgh, PA at one of the leading heart transplant hospitals in the nation, Pittsburgh Presbyterian Hospital.
In September 1986, Mom and Dad went to Pittsburgh Presbyterian Hospital. Dad was going to be evaluated for a heart transplant. After being tested all day, the doctors told him he had a 50/50 chance of making it through a transplant. As Mom and Dad were getting ready to leave the hospital, Dad’s heart stopped beating. His heart stopped 15 times that day.
My sister and I were flown to Pittsburgh as no one thought Dad would make it through the night. Prayer requests were sent out and my dad did make it through the night. For six months Mom, my sister and I flew back and forth from Memphis to Pittsburgh. We were all tired. Dad had made it longer than anyone expected him too, but we were still waiting on a heart. God was watching and protecting all of us.
On March 22, 1987, we were told the doctors had a heart for Dad. It was a 16-year old heart from Memphis. God had been watching over us again and we knew the family of the young man who died. The doctors prepped Dad for surgery; they had cut his chest open but there ended up being a delay. For six hours, Dad was in the operating room waiting.
Dad’s brother, Jerry, was there in the waiting room with me. I will never forget him saying to me, “I hope they throw a blanket over him, so the flies don’t get in”. Finally, the delay ended, and Dad got his new heart. The family who donated their son’s heart came to see dad often and knew that part of their son was still alive – he was our miracle.
Dad makes the Funny Paper
The Memphis newspaper even had a cartoon about dad. It showed a man trying to collect his social security check. The lady at the social security window was telling him that he was not eligible for social security because “when you average your age with the age of your kidney and the age of your heart your only 28 years old!” We were all thrilled Dad was going to be okay.
On August 1, 1994, my dad died. His kidney and heart were working fine.
Jim Tom Williams, 62, of Germantown, retired account executive for Rhone Poulenc, died Monday at Baptist Memorial hospital East after a stroke. Services will be at 1 p.m. Wednesday at First Evangelical Church, where he was a member, with burial in Helen Crigger Cemetery. Memphis Funeral Home Poplar Chapel has charge. He was a Korean War veteran, a graduate of the University of Tennessee, a member of Alpha Gamma Rho, past state president of the Arkansas Pesticide Association, and board director of Allenby Westfair Association. Mr. Williams, the husband of Margaret Nichols Williams, also leaves two daughters, Mary Lynne Rigsby of Collierville and Alicia Anne Williams of Jackson, Miss., a sister, Mary Ann Russell of Vicksburg, Miss., and a brother, Jerry Williams of Mason, Tenn. The family requests that any memorials be sent to the Kidney Foundation, Heart Foundation or First Evangelical Church.
[The Commercial Appeal, Memphis, Tenn., Tuesday, August 2, 1994]