The hospital can be a pretty scary place: doctors are talking to you with big science words, and you’re often stuck waiting around, getting poked and pricked. Not to mention, the nerves that come from not knowing what might happen next seem to grow by the minute.
A Virginian teen named Taylor Givens learned this firsthand when something went terribly wrong with her heart. She needed professional help, and fast. But little did Taylor know that heading into the hospital that day would change her life in more ways than one.
Taylor was an average 17-year-old girl from Virginia, enjoying her senior year of high school when everything changed. Her good grades and plans to study music therapy at Radford University suddenly didn’t matter.
It was a normal day for Taylor as she sat, taking notes in class. That is until she began feeling a shortness of breath, fatigue, increased heartbeat, and spurts of anxiety and depression for no apparent reason.
Taylor and her mother went to a primary physician after school, but all they were told was that she was experiencing stress from her last year of high school. However, her symptoms persisted so much so, that Taylor was eventually admitted to a psychiatric hospital.
After a week of treatment and art therapy, doctors released her from psychiatric care. But Taylor knew something more serious than stress was affecting her. It was her body, and she could tell the diagnosis was incorrect…
Given that Taylor still had unexplained shortness of breath, fatigue, and increased heartbeat, Taylor and her mother returned to their primary physician and demanded an x-ray of her chest. When the doctor saw the results, he told her to get to a cardiologist immediately.
The next day Taylor went to the cardiologist who, after multiple tests, had her rushed to the nearest hospital. It turns out the percentage of blood being pumped from Taylor’s heart was at 10% — an average, healthy heart functions at around 60%.
With a heart pumping blood at such a low rate, Taylor wasn’t expected to survive more than 24 hours. The likely cause of all this? A cold virus that attacked her heart causing tissue damage and severe inflammation.
At this point, Taylor’s only hope was to receive a heart transplant. She was placed at the top of the list — a list that people wait on for months, sometimes years… time Taylor didn’t have.
Doctors soon put Taylor on life support but after a week, her machine suddenly stopped working. As nurses were literally hand-pumping blood to Taylor’s heart, a strange twist of fate began to unfold…
Nurses were able to correct the machine, but only after they had found a spare in a room down the hall where another patient lay. Collin Kobelja was his name, and he was about to play a role in Taylor’s life that no one could’ve predicted.
Collin had heart complications since birth — at just three days old his first heart shunt was implanted. And at 17 months, he received a heart transplant. Doctors weren’t sure if he would ever see his 5th birthday, so when Collin turned 22 years old, everyone was shocked.
But the celebrations were short-lived when Collin came down with the flu — or at least, that’s what they thought it was. When doctors performed an echocardiogram, however, the results were not ideal: Collin’s heart was failing, again.
Now, the hospital had two young patients on the same floor who both needed new hearts. The chances of them finding just one heart were hard enough, but two? That seemed impossible.
When almost all hope was lost, a better coincidence came into play as a heart suddenly became available for Taylor… and a second for Collin. The fact that these two patients were simultaneously prepped for surgery just six hours later was almost unfathomable.
After two long extensive heart transplant surgeries, it appeared that both Taylor and Collin’s bodies were accepting the new organ. However, Taylor soon experienced abdominal bleeding and needed additional surgery. Then, oddly enough, Collin too began to suffer as he caught pneumonia…
Since the two had gone through the same surgeries, at the same time, in the same hospital, Taylor and Collin met in passing — but they never got along. Taylor recalled Collin acting like “kind of a jerk” and Collin explained that he felt anti-social.
Eventually, they both left the hospital and tried to go back to a “normal” life. Taylor was doing great, but about one year after the surgery, Collin’s heart started to fail again. When Taylor found out about Collin’s situation, she decided to reach out…
They began messaging back and forth and sometimes spoke on the phone after Collin’s third, and successful, heart transplant. But nearly five years after their initial surgeries, Taylor and Collin ran into each other during a routine check-up at the hospital and had something incredible happen.
They could no longer deny the coincidental paths they were on and fell for one another! Not long after that, the two started dating. Unfortunately, it wasn’t all smiles from there — Taylor was soon diagnosed with Burkitt lymphoma, a type of cancer that was most likely caused by her transplant.
Taylor stayed strong throughout her treatment and Collin stayed by her side, taking her to every treatment. The road was long and hard, but thankfully Taylor beat cancer and was finally fully in remission.
Taylor and Collin both cheated death multiple times, boldly teaching them to not ever take life for granted. With that in mind, the duo has made plans to marry and spend the rest of their happy, and hopefully healthy lives together.
Collin has since finished college and now works as a human resource coordinator, while Taylor has plans to become a public speaker. They feel good about their futures; they’d seen proof that hospital meet cutes didn’t always end in tragedy.
Joel Alsup was a happy young boy from Tennessee that loved playing outside. So when he started foregoing a jump in the autumn leaves to sit inside, his parents began to worry. Was there something wrong with their son?
“He was 7-years-old, and he couldn’t buckle his seat belt, and I thought he was just messing around,” his father recalled. “When we played catch, I saw him reaching for the ball with his left hand. I knew something wasn’t right.”
After what felt like endless doctor appointments, it became clear why Joel’s arm was hurting so badly: he had a tumor near his right shoulder. Without hesitation, the family headed to St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital in Memphis.
There, the Alsup family learned that Joel’s tumor, called osteosarcoma, was not treatable by medication. There was only one option for Joel to live: his arm would have to be amputated. It was a nightmare, but the Alsups had no choice.
Meanwhile, all the way in Missouri, a young girl named Lindsey Wilkerson faced a similar fate. She had just learned that she had acute lymphoblastic leukemia, but the disease wasn’t what worried her family the most – it was the costs of her future treatments.
“My parents were checking their bank account,” Lindsey said. “They were going to put our house on the market to sell everything, to hopefully be able to provide me with the care that could save my life.”
Luckily, St. Jude stepped in and assured the Wilkersons that they wouldn’t be billed for anything because the hospital has a “no child will be denied” policy. It saved the family some stress, but Lindsey still needed intense, painful treatments.
Luckily, she wasn’t going to face them alone. She met Joel at a St. Jude fundraiser in 1993, where both families were invited to share their stories. “I remember thinking Joel was really cute and had a great sense of humor,” Lindsey said.
Joel, too, remembered meeting Lindsey for the first time and feeling fond of her right away. While he went through amputation, check-ups, and rehabilitation, Lindsey underwent three years of chemotherapy: a treatment that knocks the life out of anyone.
Thankfully, the two found solace in each other’s company. For the next three years, the two would bump into each other at appointments or functions, and even stayed in touch long after they grew up.
Eventually, the two friends parted ways as they went off to college: Lindsey to the University of Central Arkansas to study communications, and Joel to Middle Tennessee State University to major in TV production. But this wasn’t the last time they’d see each other.
After graduation, Lindsey married a man, had two kids, and — to fulfill a dream — volunteered for fundraisers at St. Jude until she landed a job in the Event and Patient Liaison Department. Things were looking up.
Sadly, after 12 years, Lindsey divorced her husband in 2015, but she did gain custody of her two children, Jacob and Audrey. They meant the world to her, and that’s why she treated patients as if they were her kids.
“I used to think, ‘I know what you’re going through, I’ve been there,’ but having children of my own shook me like an earthquake; it really changed my perspective,” she said. So, she moved to Memphis to work in the fundraising department.
What Lindsey didn’t know was that Joel had also taken a position at the hospital; he was the supervisor of the creative media division, making commercials and promotional films for the hospital so it could continue to get funding.
As soon as the old friends realized they were sharing a workplace, their friendship reignited as if they had never been apart. “For the better part of 12 years, we became the best of friends,” Joel said. And they rapidly grew closer and closer.
“We connected on the complexities of our situations, and how it changed the way we see the world,” Lindsey said. “We have this almost sense of urgency about living life, this gratitude, this desire to give back.” In fact, they had even more in common than that…
They were both head over heels in love with each other. Joel told Lindsey so in 2016, when she was watching a movie with Audrey. She told him she loved him back, and everything finally fell into place. It seemed to be fate.
On September 1 of that year, the lovers were wed by Brent Powell, the head chaplain of St. Jude, at the Danny Thomas/Alsac Pavilion, named for the comedian who founded the hospital. The couple had truly come full circle.
“During your youth, a cancer diagnosis invaded your life, but you endured and defeated it,” said Powell. “Now you are giving back, paying it forward. You are two of the most loving people I know. It only took you 20 years to confess your love.”
Both Joel and Lindsey, in their late 30s as of 2019, were cancer-free, but they still needed check-ups to make sure they’d stayed healthy. Still, they had come a long way from the patients they once were, and together, they have fostered a strength without bounds.
“Coming back to a place that’s so dear to our hearts has been one of the greatest honors of my life,” Joel said. Lindsey echoed his sentiment: “Thanks to St. Jude,” she said, “I was lucky enough to marry the love of my life, my best friend.”