By Madison Burke
Harold Price was born with a coarctation — a narrowing of the aorta that prevents the main blood vessel from carrying oxygenated blood from the heart to the body. This complication ended up being just one of many health difficulties has Harold has faced throughout his 69-year life.
The coarctation was not discovered until Harold’s pre-school physical. The coarctation, fever and other issues landed Harold in an Oklahoma welfare hospital at least four times between ages 6 and 12.
“One of my favorite stories is when I was in the hospital and losing weight,” Harold says. “A social worker came to talk to me about it, and I told her I was losing weight because the other kids were stealing my food. I was on an IV and couldn’t chase them. She talked to a nurse aide who said she would take care of it. The nurse aide came back with a plastic baseball bat for me and told me to ‘knock the hell’ out of anyone who tried to take my food. I didn’t get any more food stolen after that.”
The day before Harold’s 13th birthday, he had surgery to repair the coarctation. It was successful, but his aorta had sustained damage over the years, which led to several hospital stays during Harold’s teens.
“During one of my stays, they had to take blood every 30 minutes. I had a resident who would take me down to his office to take my blood so the other kids didn’t see me cry. That was real important to me,” Harold says.
When Harold was 42, he underwent a successful double valve surgery, leading to 26 years of good health.
This summer, Harold’s mitral valve began leaking, and he underwent surgery. The repair leaked, causing many of Harold’s organs to shut down. Boone Hospital Center physicians worked with Barnes-Jewish Hospital physicians to treat and stabilize Harold.
“I owe my life to Boone and Barnes,” Harold says.
Harold also says he was touched by the kindness and compassion of the staff at the two hospitals.
“I found that Boone and Barnes were different from most places I’ve been. The staff really cared for each other. I had never seen staff that loved each other and worked together so well — from the doctors to the housecleaning,” Harold says. “One of the housecleaning ladies at Boone knew every time
I had been admitted down to the day. That was real important to me. You just feel like you’re a real human being and they care about you.”
Supportive Care Nurse Mandy Schmidt spent a lot of time with Harold during his time at Boone Hospital. She says he often told her he wanted to give back to the hospital that gave him so much, and she encouraged him to share his story as a way to do that.
“Something that meant a lot to me as a member of his care team and a Boone employee was the amount of gratitude Harold had for every person he came in contact with throughout BJC,” Schmidt says. “Harold had compliments for dietary, housekeeping, nursing, patient care techs and physicians alike. Harold explained to me the day I met him that he wanted to give something back to Boone, but he wasn’t sure how to do that but was willing to share his story and compliments so everyone knows what wonderful care Boone Hospital provides from the bottom to the top.”
Schmidt also says that throughout Harold’s ordeal he talked about his faith and trust in God to help him through his struggles.
“He was so calm, yet unwilling to give up,” she says. “He talked about drawing strength from his faith and wanted to share that part of his story as much as any other part.”
Schmidt says Harold’s wife, Doris, was key to his survival, noting the closeness between the two.
“They are the kind of couple that can finish each other’s sentences, talk without speaking and truly value the life they get to live together each day. Harold and Doris seem to have always considered the other before themselves in making decisions and yet can find grounds to compromise and live happily despite the challenges life throws their way. You come in contact with lots of patients and families in the hospital, but the relationship between Harold and Doris through this entire life of illness is unlike any other I have ever witnessed, and it has been a blessing to see.”
Harold and Doris are now living comfortably in their south Columbia home. They enjoy spending time with their daughter, son-in-law and granddaughter.