Consider organ donation: The Bill McCaskell story

Published 11:37 pm Saturday, April 5, 2008

“God couldn’t be everywhere so he made Big Bill,” wrote one of Bill McCaskell’s grandchildren.

McCaskell, known by all who loved him as “Big Bill”, was Picayune’s first heart transplant patient. He passed away on Monday, at the age of 74, in Carriere.

The long-time resident of Picayune was made famous by the press in 1986 for the still experimental procedure he received at Ochsner Foundation Hospital in New Orleans. He was the 10th patient at the New Orleans hospital in two years time to receive the surgery. His new heart gave him 22 years that he ultimately would not have had otherwise, and the strong heart beat 15 years longer than the doctors thought possible.

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Serendipitous events and the tragic death of a budding young superstar from L.S.U. gave McCaskell his second chance at life and time to see his young family grow, which he considered a blessing.

Contemplating the advice of a very close family friend, Dr. D.L. Bolton, McCaskell was not sure the surgery was the right choice for him. He considered the age of his daughters, who he deemed too young to take on a trip to Alabama, and the expense of the overall procedure.

It wasn’t until what his family thought might be his very last trip to the hospital after a dizzy spell that he made up his mind to go forward with the life-saving transplant surgery. The inspiration came “out of the mouths of babes”.

In a wheelchair and sitting by the hospital pool, McCaskell was confronted by a young boy happily swimming over to his side. According to the family, the young man, approximately 10 years old, told Bill about his own heart transplant surgery. He said, “Now I can swim and I can run.”

“God used that little boy to help Bill,” said Bonnie McCaskell, Bill McCaskell’s wife.

The heart Bill received on September 18th came from an L.S.U. athlete who died several days after he was struck by a hit-and-run driver. Chas McGuinness, a senior and a track star, was running with his girlfriend when the accident occurred.

McGuinness’ family was unaware at the time of the incident that their son had made the life-saving decision to be an organ donor, but his mother graciously received the news. While grieving she found comfort in the fact that his organs would go on to save lives. In addition to the heart, his cornea, liver and lungs also went to help others.

“Life is precious,” said Lisa M. Blackwell, McCaskell’s daughter. “Everyone should consider being an organ donor.” The family would not have had their dad to watch their children grow had McGuinness not checked the little box on the back of his drivers’ license. It is their wish, in their father’s name, that everyone contemplates this life-saving decision.

McCaskell – father, grandfather, great-grandfather – has a family who knows how precious his life was and how he made a difference. His inspiration, selflessness, faith in God, unconditional love for his family and his mischievous sense of humor are just a few of the many things they loved about him – things everyone loved about him.

In the end, it was not the transplant that took his life, but the beating his body took from the anti-rejection medication. During his final days, McCaskell’s new heart was still working hard for him.

McCaskell is survived by his wife Bonnie Franklin McCaskell, three daughters, six grandchildren, and one great-grandchild. “Big Bill” will be loved and missed by all of them.