May 11, 2016

After 25 years, ‘The [Heart]Beat Goes On’ for Gullickson

By Annette Tait
It all started with shortness of breath. The symptom persisted, and eventually Richard Gullickson went to see his doctor about it.
An otherwise healthy fourth-generation farmer, Richard raised wheat, sunflowers, corn, and Hereford cattle on land that had been in his family since his great-grandparents’ time, and operated the Westernairre Bar in Center with his wife, Kye.
When he made the appointment, Richard had no reason to believe the diagnosis would be anything major.
Instead, Richard and Kye learned his heart was deteriorating from congestive heart failure.
“They figured it was caused by a virus,” Richard said.
That was in 1985. By 1988, Richard’s health had seriously declined and he was put on the list for a heart transplant.
“I accepted it, and that was it,” Richard said. “If I’d refused to do it, it wouldn’t have been very long.”
Kye, of course, was in favor of the surgery, in the hope of keeping her husband alive.
There were only three places that did heart transplant surgery at the time, Seattle, Pittsburg, and the University of Minnesota Hospital in Minneapolis, Minn. The choice was obvious, considering the family’s proximity to Minneapolis.
“We didn’t know if we were going to have a dad,” said Richard’s daughter, Michelle Wettels, of the time Richard spent on the transplant list. “He missed the first call, so they gave him a beeper. He was a very lucky person to get that.”
According to Richard, he was still in pretty good shape when that first call was missed.
“I didn’t think much about that one,” he said.
But, as time went on, he became progressively weaker, to where moving from one room to another took an effort. He and Kye continued to run the Westernairre, getting home at one or two in the morning after closing the bar.
“It was a Saturday night, we’d closed the bar, didn’t even get in the house when the phone rang,” Richard said. “I answered it and they said, ‘We have a heart – can you be here?’ I said, ‘Yes, we can.’”
It was Sept. 2, 1990.
“The day he got the call, we couldn’t go with, he flew down in an airplane,” Michelle said. “I gave him a hug and he said, ‘Don’t give me a hug, I’m going to be back.’”

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