In February of 1987, Eddie Knipp developed bronchitis from which he could not recover. By August of that year, he was diagnosed with idiopathic cardiomyopathy (enlargement of the heart due to unknown origin which prevents the heart from adequately pumping blood through the vital organs). He came to Houston, went through a medical workup and was sent home to get his affairs in order. He received the call that a donor heart was available just before Christmas of that year, and the heart served him well for almost 12 years.
| Eddie Knipp is recognized by Brano Radovancevic at the heart transplant program 25th anniversary celebration. |
Mr. Knipp was in Houston for his annual checkup in 1995. He and his wife, Laurie, were here only an hour when they learned their son, Michael, was involved in a serious auto accident. Michael was declared brain dead three days later, and his donated organs helped more than 70 people.
For five years in El Paso, Texas, there was a run in Michael’s honor to raise awareness for organ donation. The Knipps also coped by opening Angels Via Michael, an angel merchandise store within their furniture store. They have recently decided to dissolve the furniture store and devote their efforts to the angel store and online sales.
"It’s an amazing store. People walk in and they just stop. My wife says there’s a presence there. My wife starts by telling them the story behind the store and we hear all kinds of stories from people in return. It’s how I deliver my message to people. We’ve reached out to many people that way. It’s good therapy," said Mr. Knipp.
"This has been a very rewarding experience. It’s one I wouldn’t wish upon anyone else but it’s opened my eyes – my family’s eyes – to what can happen anytime and how misfortune can really change your life and bring something good out of it," said Laurie Knipp.
Mrs. Knipp believes Michael’s death and the subsequent death of his friend who survived the accident led Eddie into a rapid decline of heart failure. She has seen firsthand the stress of grief. Mr. Knipp suffered three strokes before he received a second donor heart in 1998.
"It’s been a tough challenge, wonderful, all of the above. I’m very grateful that I had a supporting wife. A cast of family and friends stood by me. I have a wonderful son who is now 25. I’ve been able to watch him grow up and graduate college. The transplants were not without their challenges, consequences and rewards. At times it seems we were trading one set of problems for another, but overall, it’s been wonderful. These 20 years I’ve experienced what life is all about. It’s not about money. It’s about love, health and enjoying every day of your life," said Mr. Knipp
"We stopped asking why a long time ago. There were no answers. Our lives were never going to be the same, nor should they be. We can only go forward. If one person can appreciate what they have, this is what it’s about. By going forward, you try to touch one more person every day," said Mrs. Knipp.
The Knipps hope that ongoing research at Texas Heart Institute will add to the knowledge to help heart transplant patients survive better without complications. They are strong supporters of organ donation and keep organ donor cards everywhere in sight.
"Few have traveled the road we have. I hope people learn from us. We’ll never be able to give back all the gifts we have received," said Mrs. Knipp. "Eddie is amazing. I put my hand on his heart and give thanks."
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