INDIANAPOLIS (WISH) — Preston Karns wasn’t supposed to live more than a few days after he was born. Instead, he made it to the age of 44, with a wife, a baby on the way and his name finally on a heart transplant list.
But instead of being a recipient, he became the giver. His widow, Ty Jones, sat down with News 8 on Tuesday afternoon, just 24 hours after doctors recovered organs and tissues for others.
He complained of a headache Thursday night and collapsed soon after. Even with a helicopter trip to the hospital, it was too late. He had suffered a large brain hemorrhage.
Preston’s gift of life in the form of organ donation came Sunday at St. Vincent Hospital, the same place he was born exactly 44 years earlier, Sept. 8, 1975.
“The fact that he was there those few minutes of his birthday really meant a lot,” said his widow, Ty Jones.
His father, Walter Karns, said when Preston was 22 months old, he underwent a surgery that had a 1% success rate. His dad said the alternative was zero, so it was worth it.
It’s only because Preston was born with two congenital defects that he survived at all: A hole in his heart helped him survive his second problem, transpositioned arteries.
Preston had five open-heart surgeries and seven pacemakers in his life. This June, his name finally made it to a heart transplant list.
A man with many talents and a trademark hat, Preston had traveled the world, served as a volunteer firefighter in his Shelby County community and was a pyrotechnics whiz, helping setting up fireworks shows. He was also a talented glass artist.
Ty showed News 8 some of his leftovers of his artwork in the waiting room at St. Vincent, not far from a tree that shows names of organ donors. Preston’s name will be going up soon.
In life, Preston was never sure he would be able to be an organ donor because of his medications. Ty said his death was the perfect end for a life well lived.
“If he could give anything, he would give it. That’s just who he was. That’s not his organs, that’s Preston. When they came and told me he was definitely a viable donor, it made me so happy. If there’s anything Preston would want, it was to give that one more time,” Ty said.
The reversal from potential recipient to donor happened in an instant for Preston.
Ty and Preston met almost five years ago and married in April, not long after his fifth open heart surgery. It was a wedding they planned in just three days in their Waldron home.
After years of trying, they recently found out they were going to have a baby.
“He wanted to be a dad since he was a kid,” said Ty. “When we went to that ultrasound and he saw the baby move, I thought he was going to jump out of his chair he was so excited.”
They were looking forward to a new life and a new heart that would make him healthier than ever.
For Ty, the fact that Preston’s heart was still beating on Sunday, his birthday, was an important achievement.
“Because he was 44,” she said. “That’s 44 years longer than anybody thought he would live. He lived a lot in that time.”
Doctors were able to recover two organs and other tissues that Jones hopes will help others.
“My heart is broken, but I think it’s broken into less pieces because of that.”
According to the Indiana Donor Network, there are more than 1,300 Hoosiers awaiting transplant and almost 115,000 nationwide.
Preston was told his wait could be anywhere from four months to a year, and even then, he had no guarantee.
“His perspective was if you’re not using it, someone should be,” said Ty.
After five days that changed Ty’s life, she said organ donation is not something you simply do for others: It’s something you do for yourself.
“Donate organs because it helps your family. Because it really does make it a lot easier to process everything that we’re going through to know that he got to do one more thing that helped,” said Ty.
Meanwhile, Ty is due in early March and could even give birth on her own birthday. She won’t find out if it the baby is a boy or girl until he or she is born.
When asked about raising a child alone, she said she may be an “only parent” but she won’t be a single mom — Preston had friends everywhere and they all want to help.
She wants to remind people to register to donate and make your family aware of your wishes.