The Oklahoman

Artist’s journey is reminder to draw strength and courage from the Lord

- Shared Hope Jane Jayroe Gamble Guest columnist

When I put together “Practice,” my book of devotional­s, I was thrilled to include this story of hope about an award-winning Oklahoma artist Harold “H” Holden.

It’s written by his wife Edna Mae Holden, an attorney in Enid. You’ve no doubt seen some of H’s work throughout this region.

There’s the “Thank You Lord” monument outside Integris ER in Oklahoma City. And the recently dedicated 9 foot sculpture of Boone Pickens at Oklahoma State University. And next month, the new sculpture of Barry Sanders will be dedicated in Stillwater. And, of course, a roping Will Rogers at the Oklahoma City airport.

These are all amazing additions to our landscapes, even more amazing because they almost didn’t happen. H is creating art and enjoying his grandchild­ren and life today ... 11 years after his lung transplant. Edna Mae says “it is still a miracle every day.” At 70 years old, H was the oldest recipient to receive a transplant at the Integris Center. Here is his story, written by Edna Mae in 2017:

H has always been a strong and taciturn man, typical of a cowboy. A horseman and outdoorsma­n, he is a man who loves Oklahoma and the West. As a painter and sculptor for over 50 years, H is a man of few words but great talent, in a career that is primarily a solitary endeavor. His original paintings and 22 monuments grace museums, airports, universiti­es, parks and private collection­s throughout the United States and he has achieved many honors throughout his long career.

Life changed in 2007 with a diagnosis of Idiopathic Pulmonary Fibrosis, a fatal lung disease, with few treatments and no cure, absent a lung transplant. As H’s health deteriorat­ed over the next three years, his ability to do even the simplest things became impossible.

He closed his studio and tried to focus on simply staying alive. Spiritual, financial and emotional help came from our church, family, friends and fellow artists. It was a difficult time, particular­ly for an independen­t and self-sufficient man, to become dependent for every need. H prepared himself for what appeared to be the inevitable.

He talked to fellow artists about finishing up his monuments “Thank You Lord”, which he was working on for our church in Enid, and “Bass Reeves,” which he was completing for Ft. Smith, Arkansas. Our pastor, the Rev. Wade Burleson, and several men from Emmanuel Baptist Church came to the house regularly to pray with H, as our friend and H’s pulmonolog­ist, Dr. Brian Whitson, ministered to H’s medical needs.

In 2010, we made two trips to the

Nazih Zuhdi Transplant Center in Oklahoma City. As the “backup” patient, H wasn’t selected for transplant­ation and someone else received the lung he so desperatel­y needed. H made the decision to not return to the hospital again as a “backup.”

Emotionall­y spent, we continued to pray for a miracle and for H to be healed. I still held onto my belief that God can heal us until our last breath and beyond, but I also understood that our will is not always God’s will. To all of us, it appeared that there was no way H could recover or be strong enough to even withstand surgery.

On July 2, 2010, I was looking out our kitchen window praying for God to please help us; H wasn’t going to live much longer. Two minutes later, our transplant coordinato­r Marc Miller called and told us to come to Integris, there was a donor lung for H. At this point H weighed only 135 pounds and it took an hour just to get him into the car for the trip to Oklahoma City as he was so frail, but H was at peace with whatever the outcome was going to be that day. Our daughter Shannon and I said goodbye to H as they took him to surgery, not knowing if we would see him again this side of Heaven.

We sat in the waiting room, joined by friends, as we received hourly calls about the progress of the surgery. Six hours later, H had a new lung and a new life, one not tethered to an oxygen tank.

Now seven plus years later, it is still a miracle every day. H is painting and sculpting again, enjoying family and friends and appreciati­ng the gift he has been given. Looking back, I recognize God’s timing was perfect and he was and is with us, every small and large step of the way.

God is not done with H Holden yet and for that we are all grateful.

“Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid; do not be discourage­d, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go (Joshua 1:9).”

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