The Life We Live


My wife needs a liver. Her liver is dying, and she needs a new one. Or one that another person can’t use because they’re dead.

Veronica needs a transplant. But there are problems. And they are scary problems.

Not the transplant. At UAB, more than 90 percent of liver transplant patients do just fine. It’s not a cakewalk. There are a lot of challenges with any organ transplant. Still, most people live and get through it.

Veronica’s problem doesn’t involve her dying liver. It involves her dying heart.

Veronica’s heart is only pumping at 35 percent capacity. For a liver transplant, that needs to be at 50 percent or above.

I asked the doctor if she needs a heart transplant. He said no way. Her heart isn’t bad enough for a transplant. But it’s too bad for her to survive a liver transplant.

And so we wring our hands. We worry about what’s next. Veronica has only ever treated her body well. She eats well. She doesn’t smoke. She hasn’t had a drink of alcohol in two years. She’s doing what her doctors tell her to do.

My doctor tells me I’m terrible. I smoke. I drink. I don’t exercise.

Yet, Veronica needs a new liver. I don’t need anything. Life isn’t fair. But who said it would be?

So now Veronica is going to the horribly named Heart Failure Clinic to see if they can rehab her heart enough so she can endure a liver transplant. They must not fail, even though failure is in their name.

Veronica is a survivor. She’s a person who doesn’t quit. I know this because when we were fairly newlyweds, she died one night.

Veronica was sick. The doctor at the time said she had the flu. I told him she didn’t have the flu. Something else was wrong. He said she had the flu. And sent us away.

We left. And then we drove around, just to relax. We went to Oak Mountain, and we stopped and had a milkshake. We admired our surroundings, and looked at each other and smiled.

For whatever reason, I didn’t go to sleep early that night. For whatever reason, I was awake just after midnight when Veronica took her last breath. She breathed deeply, then exhaled, breathed deeply again, and exhaled. Then she didn’t breathe again.

I turned on the light. She was blue. Her eyes rolled back. She evacuated. I had just completed a CPR class, so I did that. I breathed for her. I punched her chest. I said to her: Come back here. Do not leave. Come back here.

Veronica came back. I called an ambulance, and she was in the ICU at a now-closed hospital in Birmingham for three days.

The verdict was that she was allergic to the medicine her cardiologist had been giving her to regulate her heartbeat. That medicine was quinine. When she was transferred to UAB for an electrophysiological study, the doctors there said quinine was an outdated medicine. In any event, Veronica was allergic to it, and the doctors told her that her liver was damaged because of the quinine.

Now Veronica is paying for that. Her liver is broken. She needs a new one. She can’t get a new one because her heart is broken, too. But her heart isn’t so broken that she needs a new heart. It’s broken just enough that she can’t get a new liver.

I’ve been married to my wife for 40 years. I’ve loved her for 42 years. I didn’t know her before that. But I would have loved her had I.

We are split-a parts. We are lovely together. We are equally curious about everything around us.

We have endured terrible heartbreak, like all people, and we have cried on each other’s shoulders. We have seen all four of our parents pass, and we have grieved tremendously for them. We have watched as our great niece stoically faced brain cancer, stared it down, and surrendered peacefully to it late last year.

We have been through no more or no less than what any human goes through. Yet, we’re older now, we get tired easily, and Veronica needs a liver. And she needs a stronger heart.

So we’re going to work on her heart. We’re going to get her where she needs to be for a new liver. And we’re going to celebrate life every day, because that’s what we know we have every day.

24 Responses to “The Life We Live”

  1. Mary Ellen Capps says:

    Joey, I know you are a wreck . Please tell her you add both in my prayers.

  2. Jane Wilkerson says:

    I know you and Veronica are devastated by this situation. I don’t know what else to do but pray that her heart improves enough for a liver transplant.

    My prayers will also be for you as well, Joey. God bless you both. May you find peace during this time until a transplant can be performed.

    I know you both are loved by many people, and even more so by God.

  3. Jane Wilkerson says:

    I know you and Veronica are devastated by this situation. I don’t know what else to do but pray that her heart improves enough for a liver transplant.

    My prayers will also be for you as well, Joey. God bless you both.

  4. Jane Wilkerson says:

    I know you and Veronica are devastated by this situation. I don’t know what else to do but pray that her heart improves enough for a liver transplant.

  5. Marilyn Greely says:

    Dearest Veronica and Joey:
    You have my thoughts and prayers. I had no idea you were facing this struggle! If there is anyway I can support you and lend a helping hand, know that I will glad do so! I know from personal experience how hard dealing with health issues can be…

    Prayers for you path to be cleared and take you successfully though this difficult time!

    Marilyn Greely
    [email protected]
    205-540-5675 cellphone

  6. Lanie Parker says:

    My heart breaks for you and Joey. Prayers coming your way. Healing love as well. Hugs To both of you.

  7. Mary Kaye Jacobs says:

    Beautiful and sad column. I am so sorry to hear about these complicated health problems. You and Veronica are wonderful human beings. Hoping and praying the heart clinic can turn this situation around and get the canoe floating in the right direction.

  8. Sending you both the best. I’m so sorry that you’re going through this and am praying for her recovery.
    There is somewhat of a heart guru at UAB, Dr. Mustafa Ahmed. He saved my Mother’s life twice when no one else would touch her case. He’s got several articles online. Maybe he could be of help.
    Take care, Pam

  9. Connie Walden says:

    Joey & Veronica…I just have no words. V, do you have a pacemaker? If not, ask why and about the possibility of one. Heartbeat was very low and a pacemaker brought it up to 72. I will certainly keep you on my heart…

  10. Oh Joey Kennedy!
    I am SO SORRY! Who in the world was prescribing quinine when it was (apparently) already outdated?! No! No! That doesn’t matter. My brother underwent shoulder/arm surgery in the past after a skiing accident, and after surgery he could turn a door knob, but he could NOT raise his hand to the doorknob…so another orthopedic surgeon said, “What so-and-so did was outdated. I’ll fix it.” And he did.
    It happens all the time. A method (or medicine) becomes outdated; a new method (or medication) takes its place.
    My hubby and I are great, together. Apart, we’re not as good, but each of us is at least “OK” alone. Nine years ago my husband underwent esophageal cancer surgery at UAB. He was pronounced a “surgical cure,” with no metastasis whatsoever, and has continued to have no recurrence, as monitored by esophageal gastroscopy every year. We faced cancer together and have come out unbelievable winners, and ever stronger.
    We are members of Edgewood Presbyterian Church (for 20+ years); please know that your Veronica (and you!) will be on our prayer list! We’ll be holding our first “virtual” church tomorrow via the ZOOM app. (Go to our website!) Joey Kennedy, you and your writing have been part of my life for a long time, for I am a committed news junkie (and I’m 72 years young; hubby is 77). My parents were news junkies when there were two Bham newspapers (The Post-Herald and The News). And Mom continued to enjoy her DAILY Bham News. Thankfully it was still going strong 7 days a week at the time of her death.
    I LOVE my newspaper! I LOVE your column! I also faithfully follow Mike Oliver and his tale of Lewy body dementia. As I know you know, his wife, Catherine Oliver, is a Presbyterian Church (USA) pastor.
    Prayers, dear hearts!
    Courage, dear hearts!
    And much love!
    Marilyn & Miles Jackson
    244 Kent Drive
    Homewood, AL 35209
    And long-time proud members of Edgewood Presbyterian Church (USA)

  11. Charles & Jane Nesbitt says:

    So sorry about the health problems you are having to deal with. We have many fine docs in this city dealing with liver & heart issues. I know she will be in good hands. If she would like to talk with someone who has a long history of heart conditions and surgeries , I can
    put you in touch. We’re are praying and would be glad to help if the need should arise.

  12. Peggy Clarke says:

    Prayers and thoughts are with you and your wife. We are all in God’s hands and he will watch over her.

  13. Victoria L. Coman-Jackson says:

    I know you to be a power couple. Words are the glue (besides love) that have kept you together. You two have used words to inspire us all.
    Know that my words to God are that He continues to keep you together and bless you with His healing grace.

    Love,
    Victoria and the young men (Victor and Christian)

  14. Debbie Walker says:

    Prayers for you and Veronica. I met you a few years ago in Pell City, and you both touched my heart. Your love for each other is inspiring and proof that love does survive all… I pray Veronica’s heart AND liver improve so that you can enjoy many more years of happiness together!!!

  15. Martha Powell says:

    Such a beautiful tribute to a beautiful lady. How incredible it must be to have loved someone that long and shared so much. I am praying for Veronica, and you, Joey. God Bless you both. This poor old world needs all the care and compassion it can get. And, Veronica has plenty of both to share. So, I hope she gets the stronger heart. This world will be stronger if she stays with us.

  16. Bob Hicks says:

    I met Veronica several years ago while on the Alabaster City Council. Although we spoke professionally and briefly, I sensed an inner strength that you so beautifully detailed in this narrative. It is this strength that will pull you through this challenge and turn it into an opportunity for victory. Press forward, and know the Hicks family of Alabaster, Alabama stands firmly behind you in prayer. Grace and peace………

  17. Cameron Vowell says:

    Oh, Joey, I am so sorry! You have been gracious enough to share your lives with your devoted readers. We have fallen for Veronica and all of your canine companions. We will pray for strong hearts and livers for Veronica.

  18. Julie QuinAndrews says:

    Veronica and Joey my heart aches for you as you struggle down this challenge for the heart to heal well enough for surgery, so you can get a new liver. Prayers for you both and the medical staff now caring for you. May God help them to heal all that is ailing you. Your such wonderful people. Best wishes Julie

  19. Nancy Campbell says:

    Joey, my best to Veronica and you at this time. Your situation is an unfair craziness that would leave most people feeling overwhelmed. Yet, I sense that you both will do everything you can to make Veronica well again. Already I think in terms of celebrating her recovery.

    Keep the world posted, dear friends.

  20. Praying for you both!

  21. Eddie Lard says:

    Joey, thanks for sharing and the beautiful way you shared it. We are praying for Veronica and you!

  22. Bill Plott says:

    Joey and Veronica,
    What tragic news. You are in our prayers, old friends.

  23. Dave Parks says:

    I’m thinking of you all and what you’ve meant to me. May God bless and watch over you both.

  24. Vi Parramore says:

    Joey, I have loved your writings for many years. Your love story about your beautiful wife is such an inspiration. Both of you will be in my prayers. I believe she will come through this fine. She has you by her side to give her the strength that only your love can give. God bless you!

Leave a Reply