Today marks the third anniversary of my friend, Benjamin Mazzone’s double lung transplant. When thinking back to his miraculous testimony, I can’t help but recall my first encounters with Ben as my manager at our former advertising agency. On day one of my new position as Account Executive, I was charged with giving Ben a ‘Who’s Who’ questionnaire, which would grant a fun inside look into his personal life. I told him via phone and follow up email, to pick five out of the one hundred questions to answer candidly. Instead, he returned them to me completely answered, all one hundred! It was our first of many misunderstandings in the corporate world. I was wondering why it took him almost a week to complete five questions. This was all before my face-to-face encounter with him.
When we met, he was how I envisioned a manager to look. Rimless glasses, short pepper gray hair, tailored suit jacket with detailed cufflinks, and the most shined shoes I had ever witnessed. I was afraid he would absolutely hate me after the one hundred question mix up, but he shook my hand, smiled, and cordially greeted me with a “nice to meet you”. As we were headed to our first lunch as a group, we packed into the elevator. As the six uncomfortably fit, we noticed Ben’s oxygen tank. The elevator seemed to get that much smaller. He explained that he had Idiopathic Pulmonary Fibrosis, which is the hardening of the lungs and a potentially fatal disease. For years, we went on with our everyday work lives, while witnessing the decline of Ben’s health.
Throughout his fight with Idiopathic Pulmonary Fibrosis, Ben always had a picture of the Virgin Mary in his cube and confessed his love for Christ and his church openly. Even at his sickest, he had such dedication to his career as our manager. On October 11th 2006, he left early as he was not feeling well. He left the office and was wheeled out by his amazing friend Ellen. As he was hunched over, he said a weak goodbye barely breathing on his own. He looked completely different from the manager that I had met a couple of years earlier. He was being pushed in a wheel chair, his weight had dropped significantly, and his nails were purple as oxygen was not being circulated to the tips of his fingers.
That next morning our team of four had been called into an office. A manager had stated that Ben was not doing well at all, and it was not looking good. The initial transplant wasn’t a match. I just sat there numb in disbelief. I kept thinking to myself, he had just come into work the day before. The team of four took a break and went downstairs in the lobby to take this all in. I remember the pain and shock in each of our faces.
The next day we had received word that Ben had a donor. There was a horrific storm that night and a young woman died tragically in an accident, in addition, the transplant team had to fly through that same storm. They faced the snow in spite of the warnings. On top of the weather, the former President Bush was in Chicago, and air traffic was forbidden. The transplant team had to contact the President to fly in his air space. It was approved by former President Bush’s staff, and the team made it through the storm safely! The lungs had arrived for a perfect fit.
For a week or so, we worried about a possible rejection of the lungs. Yet, each day it was a positive report. We sent letters, cards, & gift baskets. His family kindly returned the favor by bringing in authentic Italian meatballs for the entire office!
Five months later Ben came back into the office as I remembered meeting him for the first time. He was without a wheelchair, without an oxygen tank, his nails were not purple, weight was back up (sorry Ben :), and most importantly his smile, cufflinks, and shoes were still shining. I asked if it was okay to hug him, and he said,”Of course”! We sat around his cube and stared in amazement, despite a joking sign a coworker made, “No staring at the miracle”! I don’t think we got any work done that day.
I asked Ben to give me his thoughts on his miraculous transplant:
Today is the three year anniversary of my double lung transplant. I celebrate and I ponder what my life was, what my life is and what my life will be as a result of this miracle that the Lord has provided me. As I look back at everything, I wonder “how did I survive”? I always was close to the Lord and always knew in my mind that God loved me. But knowing and believing are two different things. I could not move the knowledge of God’s love and mercy from my brain into my heart.
Throughout my ordeal I constantly prayed for a miracle. If Jesus could cure the blind and the lame, I knew He could cure me. Over time, I became aware that He had been answering my prayers. Not with the results that I wanted but He was answering them none the less.
He provided me a family that was supportive, loving and understanding throughout my illness. He provided me a faith community that sustained my faith and provided me spiritual nourishment and an atmosphere where I could question without judgment or criticism. He provided me friends and co-workers who assisted me and accommodated my physical needs.
Most of all, he provided me a donor family who took the tragic death of a family member and turned that death into a life giving and selfless act of love and mercy. I know very little about my donor or my donor family. I do know that my donor was a woman in her late twenties. I also know that she was beautiful, caring and carried the light of God in her soul. By her decision to donate her organs after her death, like God, she gave life. She showed her love and mercy for others.
I further realized that the real miracle is not so much that I am alive, or that God guided the hands of the surgeons during the surgery. The real miracle is not even that God touched the hearts of a family to donate the organs of a deceased loved one. The real miracle is that God has cured me of my blindness and allowed me to see the love and mercy He has for His people.
I guess I survived because God was with me the whole time. He was with me when I found out about my lung disease. He was with me during the various hospital tests and doctor visits. He was with me during the surgery and during my seven week recovery in the hospital. He was with me when I was frightened, when I cried and when I celebrated my new lease on life. I survived because He was with me; and through His grace, I will one day be with Him. Amen.
Amazing to say the least! Ben never gave up on his faith, hope, and trust in God. The world is truly blessed to still have Ben Mazzone- the man who would give the shirt off his back, let you keep the change if you made a morning coffee run, and the man who has no problem apologizing or forgiving.
I love you Ben and I’m thankful to God that He has given you a second birthday, October 13th!