Crandall Promotes Organ Donation While Awaiting A New Heart
The text message from colleague and friend Cody Crandall arrived at 4:24 p.m. last Aug. 22.
“Hey, Scott. I’m not feeling very well today,” he punched into his phone. “I haven’t been breathing the greatest. I went to the doctor and he gave me some medicine and he wants me to get an X-ray on my chest. Would it be alright if I just worked on the Gridiron stuff from home tonight?”
Typical Cody, I thought that day five months ago. Here he was under the weather, and he was more concerned about completing his assignments for the newspaper’s annual high school football magazine than he was about his own health.
Two days later, there was this:
“Hey, Scott. I just got the results of my chest X-ray and the results came back abnormal. My doctor ordered me to go to the emergency room for further testing. I’ve been coughing up blood and I haven’t been able to sleep.”
Four hours after that, Cody’s mom, Lisa, delivered even more shocking news.
“He does have a blood clot in the lung and some pneumonia, too,” her text read. “The heart is enlarged and not functioning well. He will be going to Hamot.”
Just days earlier, Cody was playing in a softball tournament in Warren, Pennsylvania and now he was headed to UPMC-Hamot Hospital in Erie, Pa.
In an ambulance.
The diagnosis? Viral heart failure.
Doctors implanted a temporary heart pump to stabilize his cardiac function and he was then flown to Strong Memorial Hospital in Rochester. After two weeks there, Cody, who spent part of that time on a vent while in ICU, was released with the hope that his heart function would improve.
On Nov. 21, nearly three months to the day after falling ill, Cody was admitted to Strong again. Except with this visit there was no timetable for his release. Doctors advised him that it would be best if he was placed on the waiting list for a heart transplant.
Cody is 24 years old.
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The first time I met Cody was during the summer of 2015. He was working for the Jamestown Jammers. I had an opening on The Post-Journal’s sports staff, and he came highly recommended. I offered him a job and, thankfully, he accepted.
It didn’t take him long to get acclimated to his new digs. Heck, it was as if he was born to work at a newspaper. No. 1, I could tell that Cody not only loved sports, especially baseball, but he also was an outstanding writer. Secondly, there was not an assignment that he didn’t jump headfirst into. And, finally, he always made deadline.
“I have always been told that I’ve had that ‘grinder’ mindset, whether it’s been on the baseball field, in the classroom or in the office in a professional setting,” Cody said in an email. “I’ve realized that even more since August.”
A 2011 graduate of Jamestown High School, Cody was a member of the baseball team and an honor student, a combination that would later serve him well at Jamestown Community College, too.
“He was always a good kid,” said JHS varsity baseball coach Dave Roehmholdt, whose son, Ryan, has been a lifelong friend. ” … To see him go from 7 into his 20s, and watch him get a job and start working in the community is kind of nice.”
Cody received his bachelor’s degree from SUNY Fredonia. Three months later, he joined The Post-Journal sports department. Until his illness, Cody traveled the state covering high school sports; chronicled the Jammers, Jamestown CC athletics and golf tournaments; and wrote feature stories about area athletes that never ceased to make me proud.
So when I received that text in August, well, let’s just say I had my breath taken away.
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“When I first woke up in Rochester … was when I realized the seriousness of my condition,” Cody said. “I was educated by doctors and cardiologists here at Strong and my family filled me in on everything that had happened as well.”
But there were no answers to what caused the heart failure. One day he was playing in a softball tournament. A couple days later, he was in ICU.
“We were told it was viral, but determining the exact cause or virus is extremely difficult,” Cody said. “The doctors told my family and I that they weren’t sure how it happened or why it happened, but my primary focus should be striving toward recovery.”
Cody is also taking the opportunity to use his personal situation to promote organ donorship.
“Being here has made me realize how many people are in need of life-saving transplant surgeries,” he said. “Also, through my own research and through the staff here at Strong, I have realized that New York has long had poor participation in organ donation, ranking last among the 50 states. I don’t think a lot of people realize how serious of an issue it is. I know I certainly didn’t before I became sick.”
Dr. Himabindu Vidula of the Advanced Heart Failure program at Strong Memorial said that she first met Cody and his family when he came to the hospital on a temporary heart pump.
“We were eventually able to remove the pump and stabilize him with medications,” she said in an article for the hospital’s online newsletter. “However, his heart function did not recover and we needed to add him to the waiting list for a heart transplant. Cody has shown an incredible amount of strength as he deals with his heart failure and he is very motivated, which is important for a speedy recovery after transplant.”
According to Strong Memorial Hospital’s online newsletter, the number of people who need organ transplants far exceeds the number of organs donated each year. There are nearly 10,000 people in New York who need an organ transplant, according to the Finger Lakes Donor Recovery Network, the organ procurement organization affiliated with the University of Rochester Medical Center, in partnership with other Upstate New York hospitals.
About 450 people, including Cody, are on Strong Memorial Hospital’s heart, liver, kidney or pancreas transplant program waiting lists.
“I certainly urge anyone to consider becoming an organ donor or reconsider becoming one if they aren’t,” Cody said. “You could potentially help so many other people in situations just like myself. It’s a simple process and you can join the state’s organ donor registry online at passlifeon.org or donatelife.ny.gov.”
Noted Roehmholdt, Cody’s high school coach: “Thinking of others right away. That’s definitely the kind of kid he is. I wasn’t surprised to hear it.”
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Cody has a boatload of friends. One of his best pals is Gannon Jackson. They live a three-minute walk from each other on Jamestown’s westside. Both are 2011 graduates of Jamestown High School and both love America’s pastime.
“When we played travel baseball, we used to do a drill (where) our coach would hit ground balls to us,” Jackson recalled. ” … He would keep speeding up the balls, hitting them harder and harder. He would hit them so hard, I’d get out of the way. Cody would be the only one taking them off the chest so he would be better at that position.”
Cody was a first baseman, both in high school and at Jamestown CC. Although he stands only about 5-foot-8, Jackson said his friend was “probably the best first baseman I’ve ever seen.”
“If he was 6-3 or 6-4, he would probably make it professionally,” Jackson said. “He was talented.”
While he may be vertically challenged, Cody stands tall in every other way, Jackson added, especially the way he’s handled his health challenges.
“It’s kind of flustering that it had to happen to him,” Jackson said. “It’s heartbreaking and flustering, (but) with his grinding mentality, he’s not giving up. He has high hopes and a smile on his face, no matter what he does.”
Cody’s positive attitude has inspired his friend, too.
“I would like to help raise awareness for this cause,” Jackson said. “I hope everybody else does their part to help Cody. He’s the greatest kid on the face of the earth.
“I always tell my mother that he’s going to end up losing one heart, but he’s going to come up with a new heart and embrace every second of it.”
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From the time he started working at The Post-Journal two and a half years ago, it was pretty clear that Cody had a special relationship with his parents, John and Lisa. An only child, Cody’s Facebook page is filled with photos of his family.
“I can’t describe how much my family has helped me since I became sick,” Cody said. “My parents have been here every step of the way. They have made countless trips from Jamestown to Rochester and, without them, I’m not sure where I’d be. My grandparents and aunts have also made several trips out here, and being around them always makes me feel better. My family’s constant love and support helps me push through.”
Cody also tries to remain as active as possible while awaiting his transplant. He walks “a bunch” around his unit at Strong. He passes the time with NBA League Pass, rooting on the Brooklyn Nets, the Portland Trail Blazers and the Los Angeles Clippers, along with watching a “ton of movies and TV shows.” Major League Baseball’s spring training starts in a couple weeks, which means Cody will be able to root on his beloved New York Yankees.
“I don’t think I’ll ever become accustomed to a ‘new normal’ here,” he said. “I’d much rather be living the life of a ‘normal’ 24-year-old guy, but I also realize how lucky and fortunate I am to have an opportunity like this to get better.”
To that end, Cody said he’ll continue to “attack each day with a positive mindset.”
“No matter how bad something seems, it could always be worse,” he said. ” … Don’t take anything for granted. Live your life to the fullest, take risks and step out of your comfort zone, because in an instant your life could change.”
In Cody’s case, his life did change last summer.
Fortunately, he didn’t let it change him.
“Life throws a lot at you, whether it’s stress, disappointment or any other unexpected challenge,” he said. “And I’ve come to realize that it’s important to focus on yourself.”
Through it all, however, Cody remembers to give thanks.
“The staff at Strong has been extremely accommodating. They have made my stay here bearable,” he said. “They always do everything they can to make sure I’m alright. I would also like to thank Dr. (James) Cirbus and the cardiac nurses at UPMC Chautauqua WCA, and the Busti Fire Department and Ladies Auxiliary for their support.”
Meanwhile, Cody continues to field those figurative ground balls that have been hit in his direction since just before Labor Day. And just like he did with his buddy, Gannon, during travel baseball workouts years ago, he hasn’t flinched a bit.
Because when you’re a “grinder,” that’s all you know.
“I know there are going to be tough days, I know it’s not going to be easy, but I’m always going to give it my best shot,” Cody said.
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To join the state’s organ donor registry online, go to passlifeon.org or donatelife.ny.gov.