MUNCIE, Ind. (AP) — For anyone who knew Nathan Marlow and his story, word of his death at age 35 last Saturday in IU Health University Hospital, Indianapolis, is almost hard to believe.
After all, he was just an 18-year-old Central High School kid back on March 13, 1996 when, riding on the back of a buddy's motorcycle, they were run off the road by another vehicle at the S-curve on Godman Avenue.
His friend was killed outright. Nathan?
"He was supposed to die the night of the accident," said his mother, Judy Marlow.
Against all odds, though, Nathan didn't die, setting into motion an almost unimaginable medical odyssey of pain, hope and nothing less than heroic endurance, punctuated by five organ transplants and almost countless hours in hospitals across the country.
That's what makes his death, following a massive heart attack a month ago, so hard to grasp.
"We all just kind of assumed he'd shake this, too," Judy Marlow told The Star Press (http://tspne.ws/R88Syy ).
As she talked, she sounded as strong and self-assured as always. From the start, she was a stalwart advocate for her son, a constant cheerleader through one ravaging medical crisis after another, beginning when doctors essentially "gutted him" — her words — and packed his body cavity with towels to sop up the seeping liquids.
His first transplant was four organs, a stomach, bowel, pancreas and liver, harvested from a 6-year-old Florida girl killed in the crash of a car driven by her grandmother.
The child's name? Hope.
A great deal was made of her name, as Nathan fought for as much of a medical recovery as possible. Along the way he also had a kidney transplant and dealt with more operations and procedures than anyone but Judy could possibly keep track of, as well as more than seven years of dialysis, plus two-and-a-half years in which he didn't eat a bite.
That reality aside, there were also plenty of victories.
"He had lots and lots of different miracles in his life," Judy said, noting how he came to live on his own in an apartment, got a cat and even drove. "We got to celebrate birthdays, see babies grow up ..."
And considering that lengthy stretch when he didn't eat, he eventually indulged in home-cooked meals, in Greek's Pizza, which he once asked for upon awakening from what had seemed an irreversible coma, and nearer the end, a cardiologist's nightmare-on-a-bun in the form of a burger with double cheese, double bacon and double mayo.
He also helped the physicians who so helped him.
"Nathan always knew that they were learning things from him," said Judy, whose daughter, Megan White, abandoned actuarial science for nursing as a result of her brother's fate, and works in ICU at IU Ball Memorial Hospital.
What he never got to do, though, in all those years since the accident, was to be free of pain. Asked one year what he wanted for Christmas, he told his Mom he wished he could have two minutes, just two minutes, to remember what it was like to have no pain.
Even at the end, though, Nathan didn't want to quit, and was hoping for two more transplants, including a heart, that would extend his life.
Still, as he faced his death, it was with courage, telling Judy, "I guess it's time to cash in my chips."
Early on Saturday, it was a good day, but then Nathan began bleeding.
"It was just coming out like water," Judy said.
Nearing the end, slipping in and out of consciousness, he was watching the Irish on television and wearing the tattered Notre Dame cap he had owned since before the motorcycle crash, a cap that had hung on IV poles in hospital rooms all around the country.
When her son died, her ear was on his chest. She heard a last heartbeat, and his last breath. "It was calm. He wasn't alone. The Irish won," she said.
Of course, in his own way, Nathan also won.
"He went out on his own terms," she said. "It was a game well-played."
And in a way, Judy won, too.
"I always wanted to be there when he passed," she said, gratefully. "I didn't have to pull the plug. I think that was my prayer all these years. ... But I'm going to miss him so bad, you don't even know."
Information from: The Star Press, http://www.thestarpress.com