It was 10 years ago last month that Jim Ladd was granted a second chance at life because another man died. The other man was Mike Antosh, a 40-year-old Free Press carrier and father of two young children who was struck by a vehicle and killed early on the morning of Aug. 15, 2003.
Jim, who was a non-smoker, had been waiting nine months for a double-lung transplant and was at Riverview Health Centre, where he expected to die. It was Mike's lungs, transplanted with his family's blessing, that literally breathed new life into Jim's body.
"It was nighttime, really late," Jim recalled years later about the time he woke to the sound of his beeper going off. The "beep, beep, beep" was signalling a donor had been found.
"And then, all of a sudden," Jim told me, "the door to my room flies open. The lights go on. Three or four nurses come screaming in. They're all excited. 'They've got a match, they've got a match. We've got to get you over to Health Sciences. Wake up, wake up! It's come, it's come, it's come!' "
Jim would survive to celebrate last month's 10th anniversary of the night he was given a second chance at life.
Then, on Saturday, I heard a different kind of beep, beep, beep, with a different kind of message. It was my BlackBerry signalling an email had arrived. And Jim had died.
The email was from a woman named Heather Singer.
"Dear Gordon, I am a friend of James Ladd, who passed away on Sept. 12.
"I have Bomber season tickets with him and he asked me to go to the game on Sunday (he was in the hospital). So despite the first win in the stadium, I wept throughout the game because of the empty seat next to me. I went directly to the hospital and told him about the game and he managed a fist pump. I know he appreciated your columns and he had said if he made it through he wanted to assist in getting that statue of Bud Grant outside the new stadium. I'm writing this so I can tell you of his passing and how much he loved football, whether it was the Rifles, the Bombers or the St. Paul's Crusaders. One of the many things we had in common was our love of football and we went to watch the Rifles in Saskatoon. I watched the St. Paul's team win another championship when his son, Aedan, was on the team and, of course, a few losing seasons with the Big Blue. Jim was a great dad to three wonderful children... I don't expect a response from you, and I weep as I write this email. Jim was just such a wonderful friend who overcame so many health issues and was so grateful to have such a full life filled with love of friends, family and football."
On Monday, I called Heather at the University of Winnipeg, where she teaches, and where she and Jim met four years ago in the gym because he positioned himself in her line of sight until she finally noticed him. It was that kind of persistence that got him through the last decade.
And through life, generally.
Jim was 67 when he died as a result of complications arising from skin cancer. We had known each other for nearly 50 years by then because for one season we were rival teenage quarterbacks on the same St. James Jets juvenile football team. I would go on to write about football. He would go on to coach the St. Paul Crusaders, help found the Winnipeg Rifles and be inducted in to the Manitoba Football Hall of Fame.
We became friends years later after Mike's family chose to give the organs that allowed Jim and four other recipients extra time.
In 2005, having survived three years and knowing the odds were six in 10 that he would survive 10 years, Jim told me Mike's memory was always with him.
"He's in my prayers every night," he said, his eyes brimming with tears. "I talk to him once in a while."
Jim spoke those words on the same day he had the rare opportunity to talk with Mike's widow. They met with the help of a priest who had comforted Jim in 2003 when he thought he was going to die, and who coincidentally officiated at Mike's funeral.
Jim met Epifania Austria at St. Ignatious Church on a day when all the seats were empty, but for the two they occupied in a back pew. Epifania wept as she remembered how generous her husband had been. Jim listened mostly, his hand resting gently on her shoulder.
Finally, he told Epifania this: "I view it as a miracle. And you're a part of it."
"I didn't want his life to be wasted," Epifania responded. "I wanted something beautiful to come of this."
"And it has," Jim said.
And it did.
Jim's obituary will appear in Saturday's Free Press.