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Stamper celebrates ‘birthday’

A cherry red heart-shaped helium balloon tethered to the fence in front of the City Mission danced in the breeze, as light as air.

It was an omen of the buoyant, joyful atmosphere inside the mission’s parish house Saturday afternoon.

There waiting were the family and friends of Thomas Stamper, ready to surprise him with a unique kind of “birthday party.”

A year ago this month, Stamper, 67, got a new lease on life when he became a heart transplant recipient, the 314th surgery performed at Ohio State University Medical Center.

Stamper’s two daughters and son were all in on the surprise, convincing him that there was a party going on at the mission, but for a couple of family members who share September as their birth month.

As he walked inside, the tall lanky man was visibly stunned. He immediately turned to those surrounding him in the mission pews to greet and thank them for their special gift.

Nearby was a table with four cakes — three heart-shaped — all decorated with some reference to the transplant.

It’s been a long road for Stamper, who had his first heart attack when he was 33. Twice he went on the list to get a donor heart. The second time ended in the reason for the weekend celebration.

Earlier, daughter Sandy Matney recalled how stressful times could be leading up to the surgery. Often, she said, when she would call her parents’ house in the evening, if there were no answer, she knew they were at the emergency room at Lawrence County General Hospital.

Then one morning, after a five-month wait, the call the family had waited for came. There was a heart available. Jubilation was followed by a mad dash to Columbus and the medical center.

“All the kids lined up in the hallway (at the hospital) and hugged him and gave him high fives and away he went,” Matney said.

Saturday Stamper tried to find the words to talk about the experience of being a transplant recipient.

“When you think about it, it is something you don’t want to do. It is an experience, I don’t know how to tell you,” he said. “The experience is almost unbelievable. It’s a wonderful new life.”