Englishman's search for a heart touches hearts in Cleveland
by Regina Brett
October 9, 2009
This is a story about the search for a heart.
It brought a man from England to America.
Stephen Bacon traveled from Cambridge to Cleveland to get a new heart. He ran out of options back home. His insurance was no good here, but he was ready to pay the price: $400,000 for a transplant. He wanted to live.
His mother died of the heart condition she had passed on to him. The degenerative muscle condition left him with a pacemaker at age 19.
He sold his computer business. He was too weak to continue. When doctors in England declared him too medically complicated for a transplant, he hopped a plane.
The English patient arrived on Sept. 18, 2007, at the InterContinental Hotel with two suitcases and some phone numbers of Clevelanders from his British friends.
It took a while to warm to Cleveland, Ohio. He didn't know a soul. It wasn't quite as cosmopolitan as London.
Cleveland embraced him. Jane Buder Shapiro heard about Stephen from a high school friend. Jane and her husband, Eric, invited Stephen to dinner. It wasn't long before he moved into their home for a few months.
He took up residence in their lives and, soon, in the hearts of all their friends. Stephen was a delicate house guest on and off, a quiet, disciplined spirit who talked politics and movies, cooking and food. He enhanced every conversation, meal and waiting room at the Cleveland Clinic with his dry humor.
A community formed around him. At first, he compared every American custom or culture to the better ways of the British. Then, he fell in love with America. He engaged in lively debates about politics while making gourmet meals of Asian eggs with oyster sauce, pot stickers or homemade ravioli.
There was no one he didn't befriend. He made everywhere his home, resting his giant feet on coffee tables all over Cleveland. He was interested in everything, always analyzing, always questioning, always wondering what you thought.
He never dwelled on being ill, and was fond of saying, "If you have to be ill, you might as well be ill with something doctors are interested in."
When he first arrived, he thought it would take six months to get a heart. But he was too healthy to make the top of the transplant list. A year passed, then another. He became too sick to get a heart.
This is the story about the heart he left behind.
His two years in Cleveland were the happiest in his life. He went back to England on Sept. 9 for medical tests. He had to have so many procedures; he figured he could get them done there under the national health care system. He needed to save his money for the new heart.
He never gave in to self-pity or fear. With every setback, he moved forward, practical, but expecting the best. Every obstacle was another opportunity.
He planned to return for the holidays and had a ticket to come back Dec. 15 to celebrate Hanukah and New Year's Eve with his American family.
Stephen's heart wouldn't last. When Jane got the news, she hopped a plane to England. She sat by his bedside as the respirator struggled. She was with Stephen when he took his last breath. He died on Sept. 26. He was 47.
At his memorial, they compared him to the Tin Man. Instead of Oz, Stephen ended up in Cleveland seeking a heart, but the message from the Wizard still fit: "A heart is not judged by how much you love, but by how much you are loved by others."
Stephen's journey didn't end the way he had hoped.
He never got a new heart, but he left a part of his here, transplanted into the lives of all who loved him.