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Military veterans describe gratitude for gift of organ donorship ahead of Thanksgiving

Patrick Squires, a Navy veteran who served in Afghanistan, Desert Storm and the Gulf War, is spending this Thanksgiving hoping to get a heart transplant.
Patrick Squires, a Navy veteran who served in Afghanistan, Desert Storm and the Gulf War, is spending this Thanksgiving hoping to get a heart transplant.
Patrick Squires

SALT LAKE CITY — While Thanksgiving this year looks different for many, that’s especially true for Patrick Squires.

Squires — a Navy veteran who served in Afghanistan, Desert Storm and the Gulf War — is waiting for a lifesaving phone call.

It started in 2019, when the then-high school football coach says he suddenly couldn’t breathe.

“I went into the doctor, and they said my heart had failed, and I was at 5-7% of capacity,” Squires recalled.

He went on the heart transplant list. Doctors later put him on a heart pump to prepare him for a transplant as he awaits a new heart.

“My life has changed completely since then. ... But I’m deeply thankful to be able to still be here, and be able to participate with my wife and family,” Squires said as he and two other veterans told their stories, along with officials from Utah-based DonorConnect, to thank those who give others the gift of life and to encourage donorship.

The organization connects donations to recipients in Utah and neighboring states.

Squires said he has been waiting along with his wife in the George E. Wahlen Department of Veterans Affairs Medical Center to receive a heart for about a year. To fill their time, the couple works with local communities to make sure other veterans have enough food and the resources they need.

“We just try to stay busy, and I’m trying to learn new hobbies to keep busy and keep my mind sharp as well,” Squires said.

In the meantime, he has faced delays in his wait for a transplant. Four people were bumped ahead of him on the transplant list, because although his heart is in “complete failure,” doctors consider him stable due to his work to stay in shape. The COVID-19 pandemic also created a monthslong delay as organs weren’t getting transferred between states.

Now, the call could come any minute.

“I’m at pins and needles every minute because every time the phone rings, I jump. ... I keep my phone charged, my iPad, my wife’s phone ... everything possible,” Squires said.

Tiffany Cheves, a U.S. Army veteran who served in Desert Storm, received a heart transplant earlier this year.
Tiffany Cheves, a U.S. Army veteran who served in Desert Storm, received a heart transplant earlier this year.
Tiffany Cheves

Tiffany Chevez received the call she’d been waiting for earlier this year.

Chevez joined the U.S. Army at age 17 after graduating from high school and served during Desert Storm. In 2007, she got sick. She thought she had a cold, but doctors discovered she had congestive heart failure due to chemical exposure she endured while serving. The mother in her mid-30s then went into cardiac arrest.

After three weeks in a coma, doctors implanted a pacemaker and defibrillator in her.

But years later, in September 2019, Chevez said she “started really going downhill.”

“And so I was blessed with a new heart on Feb. 18 of this year, and I was out of the hospital the week of Mother’s Day,” Chevez said.

Likewise, JJ Davis, who served as a military medic, went into heart failure in the late 2000s. Years later — after being told she only had a 10% chance of getting a heart transplant due to medical issues — she ultimately received one.

“If it weren’t for the gift, I wouldn’t be here. ... So I’m very appreciative. There’s something about being able to breathe and walk that gave me new meaning for things we take for granted,” Davis said.

JJ Davis, who served as a military medic, was told she only had a 10% chance of getting a heart transplant due to medical issues, but she ultimately received one after a yearslong wait.
JJ Davis, who served as a military medic, was told she only had a 10% chance of getting a heart transplant due to medical issues, but she ultimately received one after a yearslong wait.
JJ Davis

Though she still faces health issues requiring her to stay in the hospital, “I really thank the people who gave me this gift. It is really wonderful. I will never take for granted breathing again in my life.”

Squires said his experience waiting for a heart has also taught him to “never take anything for granted.”

“And live each day without knowing what’s going to happen the next day because your life could be changed like us three here. All three of us have become pretty close friends in this time together, and we all realize that you can’t control what happens the next day. But you need to make sure that you live for the next day,” Squires said.