Here’s proof that miracles still happen
We often talk about miracles, angels, the power of prayer and the invisibly thin, titanium-strong connection between hope and reality. Those of us who have faith in something greater than ourselves are never surprised when good things happen to the needful, but calling them “miracles” is usually just our way of saying we cannot control our own destiny. I like the idea that we are, at some level, subject to destiny and fortune, because it’s much too much of a responsibility to accept that we have dominion over everything in our lives. The poem “Invictus” is one that I adore, but the idea that “I am the master of my fate, I am the captain of my soul” is a bit overwhelming.
So let’s just say that what I’m about to tell you is my version of a miracle, and if you don’t agree with my belief that there are intangible forces at work in our lives, you can still enjoy the story.
Arty Erle has been a police officer in Upper Darby for almost 20 years. He grew up in Glenolden, is a member of the Interboro Class of 1990, and lives in Secane. Arty is about as local as you can get, spending most of his 45 years within the same area code. He is one of our finest, a man who has given his life to protecting the people he grew up with, or their near neighbors.
Sadly, he hasn’t been spared his share of hardship. In 2007, Arty was diagnosed with Stage 3 colon cancer. For some, that would have been a death sentence, but this son of Delco was able to beat it and was given a clean bill of health in 2010. Well, that’s not actually true. He was told that there was no longer any trace of the cancer, but he was also diagnosed in that same year with a condition that is common to people who’ve suffered from colon cancer, Primary Sclerosis Coloriditis. As a result of the PSC, Arty’s liver stopped functioning, and in December 2016 he was placed on a transplant list.
Those who have family or friends awaiting a transplant know the mixed feelings that are created. On the one hand, you desperately want your loved one to become an organ recipient and have that second chance at life. On the other, you realize that your happiness must come at the expense of another person’s sorrow, and in some cases, tragedy.
Last month, the tragedy of a stranger led to salvation for Arty, although after you read what follows, you’ll realize that there are no real strangers in this story.
On Aug. 10, 17-year-old Jamahri Sydnor was shot while driving through northeast Washington. The bullet was intended for someone else. She lingered on life support for three days, but died the following Saturday. Jamahri was the daughter of a police sergeant in D.C. When the family realized that their beloved child was not going to make it, they sent out an email to the police department where Jamahri’s mother, Detective Q. Wallace, worked, getting the word out that they wanted to be able to donate their daughter’s organs to other police officers.
By chance (because we are not going to use “miracle” here), one of the police officers in D.C. was a friend of a friend of Arty’s up here in Pennsylvania, Jeff Dougherty. Officer Dougherty’s buddy in D.C. sent him a copy of the email, having no idea about Arty’s predicament but simply wanting to underscore the absolute selflessness of this grieving family. Look, he said, how in the midst of such tragedy they have the ability to think about other people who are suffering.
Officer Dougherty immediately thought of Arty, called him and urged him to contact Jamahri’s family. After hesitating, because he was uncomfortable about approaching grieving parents, Arty decided to reach out to them. He reached one of the family members on Sunday night, and by the next afternoon the match was made: Arty would be receiving Jamahri’s liver.
On Aug. 15, during a 12½hour surgery at Jefferson, a 17-year-old girl’s liver was transplanted into the body of a 45-year-old police officer.
I wish that I could say the rest of the story was as miraculous (oops, that word again, sorry) but I can’t. Two days after the transplant, Arty went into cardiac arrest, and was in a coma for almost two weeks. He actually flatlined for six minutes, and there was little hope that he was going to recover. It was so dire that they called in a priest, an Augustinian from Villanova named, appropriately, Father Gus, to bless him.
But then, something happened. Maybe it was a function of the amazing care he was receiving at Jeff, maybe it was that visit from Father Gus, maybe it was Jamahri’s spirit pushing through and willing him to live, or maybe it was all of the above, but Arty woke up, opened his eyes and began to respond to commands. He is, today, alert and, with the support of his devoted, longtime girlfriend Kristin Dortone, on his way to a recovery. He is able to watch his 11-year-old daughter Brooke to grow up.
When I spoke with Kristin, calling from Arty’s hospital room, she still seemed a bit overwhelmed with everything that has happened over the last month. But the most important thing for them, the thing that they insisted I focus on, was the selfless gift of life that Jamahri Sydnor and her family gave to a stranger, who is no longer a stranger. In the depths of their grief, a grief that can barely be imagined, they looked outside of themselves and changed the life of a police officer.
This single act of gun violence in D.C. could have remained a unique, heartwrenching loss. But because a police family, which understood better than most the carnage created by guns in the wrong hands, decided to make something good out of something so sorrowful, this son of Delaware County has a future.
And Jamahri Sydnor lives on.
(To donate to Arty, please use this link: https://www. gofundme.com/officer-artyerles-recovery-fund)
Upper Darby Police Officer Arty Earle