Dave Smith never did anything halfway. From creating intricate sets for schools and church productions to building a business, Dave put his entire heart into everything he did. It came naturally to him, especially with his wife, Jackie, at his side every step of the way. They worked together, played together and laughed together as true soul mates, together since their teenage years. They declared 2018 to be the year of their “renaissance belle” – their new beginning. That’s why his sudden passing that year, at only age 50, was so especially gutting.
“Everyone says and remembers nice things about someone who passes away, but Dave was special,” says Jackie. “He was a visionary and a creator. He was intelligent and generous and an amazing husband and father.”
Jackie did have one complaint – She could never give gifts as well as him. She recalled one present in particular that she holds close to her heart. Dave, an outstanding artist and visionary, spent weeks working on it. On Christmas Eve, the day they always opened presents as a family, Jackie unwrapped an action figure like no other. It was made of pieces and parts of others, crafted and painted to look exactly like her. It came complete in a box with action figure accessories, a tiny bible and scrabble board, as well as a written description of her on the back of the box. “You’d believe it could be on a store shelf,” Jackie said.
“It was no wonder that he was able to give something even after his passing, especially a gift that would change lives of two complete strangers,” continued Jackie. “He had beautiful, blue eyes that saw things in a way that no one else could. His eyes were so important to who he was, and giving those to someone else is my way of honoring him.”
Dave suffered a heart attack on Thanksgiving night after spending a wonderful day with his family. Jackie remembers feeling like the air was sucked out of the house as she heard it happening, and she still doesn’t feel like it returned. She still longs for her husband and feels like she’s missing a piece of herself, but she knows in her heart that everything happens as part of a greater plan.
“We are put on this Earth for a reason. I believe that reason is to give. It means so much to me that he’s still giving through his donation.”
When asked what she would say if she could meet the two people who are seeing as a result of her husband’s cornea donation, Jackie said, “Dave’s eyes were so precious. He used them to watch over his family and create beautiful art. I’d tell his recipients Dave’s story, and I’d ask them to seek the things he loved and to work to see things creatively, just as he did.”
For months after Dave’s passing, Jackie found love notes he left her around the house, and on the Christmas Eve almost exactly one month later, she found his final gift: a beautiful, red coat hidden in his closet for her.
Today, Jackie continues to chase her renaissance belle. “I’m finding my new beginning by giving to others and digging through ashes to find beauty.” She looks forward to a life with her new grandchild. “We were supposed to do this together,” Jackie remarked. “I know he gets to see what we are all accomplishing, and he is proud of us.”
Jackie knows that Dave’s story can’t be fully told in an article or anecdote. That’s why she’s been inspired and drawn to write his story in a novel that she’s titled Renaissance Belle. With an expected publish date in late 2020, stay tuned for more of this story of love, generosity and vision.
We caught up with Howell Bigham just a few weeks after he wrote thank you letters to two very special families. As he writes these letters each year, he appreciates doing so without the need for eyeglasses.
Howell’s vision problems began in fourth grade. Howell, his twin brother, and his mother struggled with Fuchs’ Dystrophy, an eye disease that eventually leads to vision loss. It made his favorite activities like reading, writing, and working in the yard, incredibly difficult. As his vision continued to deteriorate into his mid-fifties, he found himself struggling to do simple tasks.
“It reached the point where I was almost legally blind. It was unsafe for me to drive,” said Howell.
As his condition continued to worsen, Howell was informed that he needed a cornea transplant in both eyes. While eager to have better eyesight, the prospect of surgery frightened him.
After meeting with Dr. John Parker at Parker Cornea, the surgery was scheduled for his left eye and then a few months later, his right. Thanks to the generous donations of corneal tissue, Dr. Parker was able to perform two successful transplant surgeries that changed Howell’s life.
Post-surgery, Howell realized the fear and anxiety he had felt were unnecessary. “The surgery didn’t hurt. The most difficult part was lying on my back for 48 hours following each transplant,” he said. It was a small price to pay to transition from nearly legally blind to seeing clearly without glasses.
These days, Howell’s life has done a complete turn-around. At nearly 60, he spends the majority of his time reading – without the assistance of the glasses he’d worn since the fourth grade. He’s also in the midst of editing his novel, a fiction crime thriller. Howell says this would have been nearly impossible prior to his surgery.
“These days, I spend my time writing, reading, and seeing the beauty of the mountains in the fall and the ocean in the summer and clouds in the sky,” said Howell. “Also, I can recognize people now after my surgery. Before I couldn’t even recognize the face of someone I knew!”
After 33 years of preaching the Gospel full-time, Howell transitioned to working full time with the Good Samaritan Hospice in Florence, Alabama as their Chaplain and as a Community Education Specialist.
“Without my transplants, this would’ve been impossible,” says Howell. “My transplants have allowed me to enjoy life more as my wife Jackie and I visit our two grown children, Jonathan and Hannah. In fact, I will be performing the wedding ceremony for our daughter Hannah this August. Needless to say, it would’ve been extremely difficult to do this without the selfless sacrifice of two wonderful people- my donors.”
Howell knows this change couldn’t have come without the sacrifice of two very special donors. That’s why he uses his God-given talent of writing to express his gratitude via letters each year. He thanks his donor families for making decisions that improved his entire quality of life.
“I’d love to meet face to face and try to adequately express just how much their loved one has positively changed my life. I’d like to say to them that their family member lives on through their donation,” said Howell.
While Howell has never met his donors’ families in person, he feels close to them. He isn’t sure how he can say “thank you” enough for their gift, but he knows that his letters are a great start.
Make a difference today by registering to be an organ, eye, and tissue donor. Use the Health app on your iPhone, register here, or sign up when you renew your driver’s license.
Jeffrey Payne takes charge of life. As a retired corrections officer, father of four, grandfather of four more and husband to the love of his life, he didn’t have time for failing vision. (more…)