A pig gave me 10 more years with Grandpa Charlie

Grandpa Charlie, right, extended his life by 10 years after heart transplant surgery involving a pig heart. Photo courtesy Caitlyn Lamm

My husband’s grandpa, a World War II vet and Iowa farmer, passed away this year just 20 hours short of his 99th birthday. After the funeral, I called my mom and we remarked upon the incredible life he lived, the things he would have seen and the dedication he had to his still-living wife of 75 years.

I told her my husband Craig feels lucky to have had his grandpa this long since his grandpa had undergone a quadruple bypass surgery in 1991 and still lived to be nearly 100.

Then my mom told me something I’d never known about my own Grandpa Charlie — his life was extended by 10 years after a transplant surgery in which he received part of a pig heart.

Now, first you have to know, my Grandpa Charlie, a 6-foot, 8-inch-tall Irishman, still remains my most loved family member. He could tell a story that would have you in absolute stitches and was a practical joker to boot.

In fact, after he and my Grandma Lila married, he had a lawyer friend draw up a comedic contract declaring if she didn’t prepare him corned beef and cabbage every St. Patrick’s Day, it would dissolve their marriage. It’s framed and hung in their home for a laugh.

And despite our somewhat confusing family tree, blood relation didn’t matter to him — you were family.

I’ve always had an appreciation for agriculture, and pork production is no exception. I like ham, bacon and a juicy chop. I also knew parts we don’t eat from pigs can be made into everyday things like shaving cream, soaps, home insulation and antifreeze.

But I was absolutely floored by this revelation — I got a little more time with my grandpa thanks to animal agriculture. It gave us a few more chuckles, a few more shared sips of whiskey, and he was able to meet Craig, who would later become my husband.

I couldn’t think of a better way to acknowledge this story than during October Pork Month.

Pig farmers are doing their best to raise food for our families to eat. But now I know that somewhere out there is a farmer who also helped raise a healthy animal that allowed a man with a heart of gold — combined with a heart of a pig — to spend time with his loved ones just a wee bit longer.

For that, I couldn’t be more grateful.

Caitlyn Lamm, a Perry resident, is a public relations specialist with the Iowa Farm Bureau Federation.


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