Goffrey Duevel plans to spend his upcoming birthday quietly. Maybe a visit with friends, he said. Maybe a cupcake.
No need to make a wish, though. Duevel, who turns 34 on March 21, finally got his biggest one granted.
I’ve wanted to write this column for more than six months and was getting worried that I wasn’t going to have the privilege.
Last July, Duevel, who grew up in Oak Grove, Minn., reluctantly made the break from his beloved home state. He moved to Florida to save his life.
I first wrote about Duevel in 2011 after he began working as a cardiovascular technologist at the University of Minnesota Medical Center-Fairview. He didn’t have to do any heavy orientation. He’d spent much of his childhood there.
After surviving childhood cancer, a form of polio and two open-heart surgeries, Duevel had a heart transplant at the U in 2008. Three years in, that heart began to fail. He was back on 16 medications and waiting for another transplant.
When I met him again for coffee in June 2012, he was weakening fast.
To increase his odds of getting another heart in the pragmatic world that is organ donation, Duevel decided to sever his ties with the U and move to Florida, where the donor pool is larger and “wait times” are shorter. He was placed on the organ transplant list at Tampa General Hospital. His Twin Cities medical team fully supported his decision. Still, a few cried saying goodbye to him.
Duevel moved in with his cousin Tiffany and her husband, Norbert “Bear” Cointepoix, in Lake Mary, about a two-hour drive from the hospital. In August 2012, he received 1A status, the highest priority for a heart. He was required at that point to move into the hospital for monitoring and to wait.
Fortunately, Duevel has the patience of Job because he needed it. After 100 days in the hospital, he’d had his hopes lifted, then dashed five times by available hearts that were found to be incompatible. Five times.
“Quite uncommon,” said the understated Duevel. “No one understood it.” Including him.
“I can’t lie and say it wasn’t a little disheartening, especially after the third or fourth one,” Duevel said. “But that’s the nature of the beast.”
Tiffany was nervous, too. She grew up in Fridley and remained close to her cousin even after she moved to Florida to attend college and, later, to marry Bear. The couple happily welcomed Duevel into their home and have traveled the two-hour drive to and from Tampa General well over a dozen times.
“The longer we were waiting down here, the more worried I got,” Tiffany said. “He didn’t have much time.”
Yet, at the end of November, Duevel voluntarily took himself off the top-priority list. He needed a break. He returned to Lake Mary.
On Feb. 16, he picked up the phone to hear the question he’d heard many times before: “When can you get here?”
He banged on Tiffany and Bear’s bedroom door for them to get up. He drove the car to Tampa while Tiffany rode shotgun, manning his cellphone for instructions.
He knew the surgery would be dicey or, in his words, “dirty.”
“It was the fourth time my chest was going to be cracked open,” he said. “The complication for bleeding was extremely high.”
Blessedly, the surgery went smoothly. Duevel woke up on Sunday, Feb. 17, feeling “so great, absolutely fantastic. The best I have felt since I was a kid.”
He’s staying at a hotel near the hospital, which is a requirement, until around March 20, when he hopes to be released to return to Lake Mary. “In case something goes wrong, you want to be right there,” Duevel said. “You don’t want to be two hours away if you have a fever spike.”
He’s had a few temporary setbacks, including a virus. His cardiologist, Dr. Maya Guglin, isn’t overly worried by it. But she is trying to get her energetic patient to be patient. “He’s doing great,” she said. “He just wants to do everything at once, all the normal things.”
Since his transplant, Duevel has taken advantage of Tampa life, going to restaurants, the beach and a bookstore in neighboring St. Petersburg. His subject line on a recent e-mail was “Brand New Man in Tampa.”
“I’m like a tourist right now,” he said.
Guglin expects Duevel to have a full recovery and enjoy a normal life going forward. “He has a healthy, strong heart,” she said. “It’s just been a pleasure to take care of him.”
Next up: Cardiac rehabilitation. After that, Duevel hopes to make a trip back to Minnesota to visit family, friends and his medical team. I’m guessing there will be cupcakes there, too.
“I’m here and I’m happy I’m alive,” said Duevel, a member of the St. Paul-based Young Adult Heart Foundation (www.youngadultheart.org). “I’m just so grateful. I can’t wait to see what transpires.”
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