By Erick Johnson
It’s been four years since WVON radio host Pam Morris-Walton learned that she had a bad heart and would not live without a transplant. The diagnosis set off an intense, successful search for a donor that ended in record time during a miraculous journey that changed Morris-Walton’s life forever.
Today, Morris-Walton is living a normal and healthy life. Her faith in God and love for life are stronger. Last month, she became an author, who documented her journey in a new book that gives readers a close look into the battle to save her life at the University of Chicago Medicine, where she spent nearly two months in a room that eventually became her second home and sanctuary.
The book is called 57 Days: The Wait for a New Heart Sparks a Spiritual Journey of Faith and Love. Published by Christian Faith Publishing, the 96-page book hit the bookshelves on Amazon on September 15. Barnes and Noble and iTunes are also carrying the book.
The cover is a photo of Morris-Walton in a graceful pose in a black turtleneck. The photo was taken by Carey Borders Fine Designs as a challenging, but inspiring chapter in Morris-Walton’s life.
In her hospital room that overlooked the DuSable Museum of African American History and Washington Park, Morris-Walton kept a daily journal of her experiences that included visits from family, friends and colleagues. Two years after she was released, Morris-Walton began writing her book in 2018, using her journal as her primary guide. In full disclosure, I served as Morris-Walton’s editor.
In 2016, four days before going on the air at WVON, doctors told Morris-Walton that her heart was bad and that without a new one, she would die. With thousands of patients waiting years for a heart, acquiring a heart seemed like an impossible goal for Morris-Walton. What started out as a mere cold, turned into a life-threatening situation that was much bigger than Morris-Walton’s faith.
Cardiologists at the University of Chicago Medicine discovered that Morris-Walton’s heart was pumping weaker than normal with lower blood levels flowing to the brain and other vital organs. She was eventually diagnosed with congestive heart failure, a disease that affects nearly six million Americans. Roughly, 670,000 people are diagnosed with heart failure each year. It is the leading cause of hospitalization in people older than age 65. If left untreated, congestive heart failure can lead to heart attacks and death.
The diagnosis left Morris-Walton overwhelmed. She did not have high blood pressure and was not a smoker. All her life, Morris-Walton had maintained a healthy lifestyle. In her book, Morris-Walton said she would have faced death if doctors did not find a new heart. With tens of thousands of Americans on waiting lists for years waiting for a new heart, Morris-Walton would join them as doctors raced against time to find the organ that would save their patient’s life.
On July 28, 2016, Morris-Walton was admitted to the University of Chicago Medicine, where she was placed on the waiting list for a new heart. After her heart condition worsened, Morris-Walton was moved to the top of the donor list as an A-list patient. After waiting for just 27 days, Morris-Walton received the new heart.
Morris-Walton’s successful heart transplant occurred on August 25, 2016—one day after it arrived at the facility. The transplant operation took nearly six hours. Morris-Walton was released from the University of Chicago Medicine on September 22. She had been in the hospital for 57 days.
On September 24, 2016, Morris-Walton returned to the airwaves as a WVON radio personality where she has hosted her Sunday gospel show for 25 years. She finally shared with many of her loyal listeners why she was absent from the airwaves for nearly two months.
Morris-Walton’s book is about her 57 days in the hospital instead of her miraculous, 27-day wait for a new heart. She wrote the book to tell her story and give faith and strength to those with similar medical challenges and life-threatening heart conditions.
While Morris-Walton’s husband, Interim Pastor Frank Walton of Third Baptist Church of LaGrange, was a big support, in her book, readers learn that God became her biggest source of hope and strength. Morris-Walton credits her divine faith for a series of unexplained, miraculous events that happened while in the hands of highly-skilled doctors led by world renowned heart cardiologist Dr. Valluvan Jeevanandam.
Morris-Walton talks about the fact that she became the fourth patient and first woman in the world to use the NuPulse CV pump device while waiting for a new heart. The device was designed by Jeevanandam, a professor and the chief of cardiac surgery at the University of Chicago Medicine.
The book has many bright moments and details Morris-Walton’s pain and heartache from several disappointments, including the moment when she learned that a heart that came seven days after she was placed on the waiting list was not a match. In the book, Morris-Walton said she relied on her faith in God to persevere.
“God has been very good to me,” Morris-Walton said. “I thank God for the great doctors and nurses who took care of me throughout my ordeal.”
Out of respect for her donor’s family, the book does not go into detail about the person who saved her life. In 2018—two years after the life-saving heart transplant-Morris-Walton met the mother of her donor, Emma O’Neal, whose 20-year-old son, Mario Cousins, Jr., lost his life in July 2016 when he was shot in the head while sitting on a porch in East Garfield Park.
“If Mario wasn’t a donor and perfect match, I’m not sure I would be here,” Morris-Walton said. “And I thank Jack Lynch and Miriam Shuck from the Gift of Hope for making sure this generous donor was a perfect match.”
Morris-Walton said she learned about the book’s posting on Amazon’s website when she was shopping at a Costco on September 15. Her husband texted his wife the link that showed her book was on Amazon, Barnes and Noble and iTunes.
“I got teary-eyed and said praise the Lord! Now, people everywhere will read my story of how God helped me overcome this huge battle in 57 days.”
In shopping for a publisher, Morris-Walton said she went to a library in Wheaton, where she located three potential publishers. She said they wanted her to fill out an application online, but instead she sent each of them a simple note to read the first page of her manuscript.
“I said you will want my story. That same day, all three offered to publish it without me completing an application. I broke the rules,” Morris-Walton said.
Morris-Walton plans to embark on a national private and virtual tour during the pandemic season including private book events in Chicago, Los Angeles, Atlanta, Milwaukee and Jacksonville, FL.
Morris-Walton said she has received numerous compliments on her book.
“One of my readers told me they planned to read it over a couple of days but couldn’t put the book down.
She ended up reading it in one day,” Morris-Walton said.
With the coronavirus pandemic, Morris-Walton remains extremely cautious.
Her underlying condition and age make her a prime target for contracting COVID-19. Since she was released from the hospital in 2016, Morris-Walton and her husband—under their doctor’s orders—always scrub and disinfect their Bronzeville townhome so Morris-Walton will not develop any infections.
“I’ve been wearing masks years before the pandemic,” Morris-Walton said. “I’m used to maintaining a distance and being in quarantine. I believe 57 Days is a must-read story. It’s true, not fake. It really happened. To God be the glory.”