Skip to comments.September 11 brings mixed emotions to former Bill (Doug Goodwin)
Posted on 09/11/2002 2:19:49 PM PDT by ganesha
He would gaze out of his hospital window every morning across the New York City skyline. Doug Goodwin was trying to soak up everything while he could. His heart had been failing for ten years, and he knew, slowly, he was dying. He would stare far away, across the Hudson River, and think about the world around him.
Goodwin became fixated on the World Trade Center. It wasn't every now and then but daily, morning and night. It was the anchor of American capitalism, but to him stood two towers of strength constructed in his prime. He worked as a laborer on the project, mixing cement and hauling wheelbarrows for the masons, during summers home from Maryland State College in the early 1960s.
In 2001, he was 59. He had become a weak, aging man with a bad heart, his life ticking away in Columbia Presbyterian Medical Center. Frankly, he wasn't sure how he would leave, by wheelchair or hearse, a new heart transplanted into his chest or the one he had finally succumbing to congestive failure.
September 11, 2001 will stand as one of the worst days in U.S. history, but it marked a second chance for Goodwin, a fullback with the Buffalo Bills in 1965-1966 in the American Football League. What led the United States and Goodwin to this anniversary is a tale of fate and fortune, intersecting like the busy streets of midtown Manhattan. On the day America had its collective heart ripped out, his was replaced.
"I look in the mirror a lot", Goodwin said Tuesday by telephone. "I feel my hands, feel my face, feel my body moving, and I feel like a different person. I get nervous. I look at myself and I have a flashback. it's weird. So many people died. in a matter of seconds, they kept me alive."
Goodwin was rescued twice, first by the Bills' fraternity and later by a series of events, barely winning each race against time. He suffered for a decade with a bad heart before doctors told him in 2000 he needed a transplant. His insurance wouldn't cover the surgery so he was kept off the recipient list.
His doctor called Bills owner Ralph C. Wilson Jr. and former quarterback Jack Kemp, who played with Goodwin for three games during the '66 season in Buffalo. The two called former teammates and friends and pooled $40,000 for Goodwin to undergo the operation, placing him on the transplant list. "When I was in the hospital, it was hard to pray for a heart," he said. "I mean how could you pray for somebody else to die? I couldn't pray for someone to die, not as a Christian. All I was doing was praying to God, saying ,'Please help me'."
Goodwin was awakened in the early hours of September 11 to hear a doner had been located in Boston, starting a chilling timeliine shortly after 3 A.M. If interrupted, Goodwin was almost certain to meet death. Doctors prepared him for surgery while two surgeons from Columbia Presbyterian took and emergency 50 minute flight to Boston to remove the heart from the donor. The heart, from a 48 year old man, was packed in ice inside a cooler. They returned to Logan International Airport with the organ at 7:37 A.M.
One small charter was rushing to New York to save a single life. Two planes were leaving Boston en route to killing more than 2,800. American Airlines Flight 11 and United Airlines Flight 175, both ultimately destined for the World Trade Center, taxied about 40 feet from the charter carrying Goodwin's heart at Logan, bound for a small airport in Teeterboro N.J.
Pilot Fred Herrmann's charter carrying Goodwin's new heart departed Boston at 7:50 a.m. Flight 11, carrying terrorist Mohamed Atta, left the runway nine minutes later bound for the North Tower. Flight 175 departed at 8:14 a.m., heading for the South Tower. At 8:35 the plane carrying Goodwin's heart touched down in New Jersey with an ambulance waiting to take the organ across the George Washington Bridge and into Columbia Presbyterian. Eleven minutes later, Flight 11 crashed into the North Tower. Swventeen minutes after that, Flight 175 exploded in the South Tower.
At 9:15 a.m. the ambulance carrying Goodwin's heart was stopped by authorities at the George Washington Bridge. The ambulance driver, who had the burning World trade center in his sights, told them he was transporting a heart to a transplant patient in Manhattan. It was one of the last vehicles allowed over the bridge before authorities shut down all passages into midtown. One wrong turn,one minor delay, and Goodwin most likely would have died. Instead, his new heart arrived at the hospital 10 minutes later. "If anything would have happened, if the light was longer at the George Washington Bridge, if anything would have happened, a flat tire, anything, I wouldn't be here right now," Goodwin said. "I wouldn't have lived. It's strange, and it's scary."
Goodwin wasn't told of the terrorist attack until he woke up the day after his surgery. The towers Goodwin saw every day had crumbled during his operation. He wasn't aware of exactly how the events about his heart unfolded until days later, when doctors reminded him how lucky he was to be alive.
Fifty percent of heart transplant patients who survive the first year live an additional 12 years. Goodwin is 60, stronger now than he was when he was 50. Every day, he reminds himself he's still a living, breathing member of society. There hasn't been a day when he hasn't thought about Sept. 11, how lives were lost and how his was saved.
"It's a miracle he's still with us," said Gwendolyn Goodwin, his wife of 30 years. "Within the past year, we have just been thanking our God that he made it through. he has improved like you could not imagine. We're very grateful to the donor in spite of the fact that so many lives were taken that day, including the donor's. My husband's life was spared, and we're very grateful for that. It's good to have him back because we thought we were losing him before the transplant."
Goodwin figures the real tragedy would be surviving the last year and dying because he's broke, wasting all the labor that went into saving him. The money donated by the Bills for the surgery and prescriptions needed so his body doesn't reject the organ has all but dried up. His insurance company covers $500 per year for prescriptions that cost some $3000 per month. His family is roughly $300,000 in debt. His wife lost her job a few months ago. Goodwin was on the phone Tuesday, scrambling for financial through the Dying Trust Fund in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, and the NFL Players Association in Washington D.C.
"I'm back to square one," Goodwin said. "I'm scared. I'm just being frank. I'm scared because chances are slim. Nobody's telling me anything yet. I'm just trying to see what I can do."
His son, Doug Jr., is a defensive lineman for Boston College who offered to leave school a year early to see if he can make a living in the NFL, mainly to help his father pay monthly bills. His father wants him to stay in school, thinking his son's education is far more important to his long-term future than the elder Goodwin's health.
Doug Goodwin will spend today like every other in recent weeks. He'll attend football practice at holy Trinity High School on Long Island, where he's a volunteer assistant coach for the junior varsity, handling the offensive and defensive linemen at his son's alma mater. He has nothing else planned. No special dinner. No visit to the hospital. He'll spend the morning and evening with his wife and settle down for the night.
Today is another sad day for the United States as the country remembers the tragedy from one year ago. Goodwin will take a few moments to remember them too, before taking a long look around and appreciating the preciousness of his own life.
"I mean, I'm able to go to Boston to see my son," he said. "I'm able to walk around the house and cook for myself. I'm able to do things for myself. That's the beautiful part about it. I pray every day and every night, as soon as I wake up and before I put a piece of food in my mouth. I say my prayers. I keep saying thanks I have a life."
e-mail bgleason @buffnews.com
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