November 15, 2019

Upon learning that her patient would not qualify for a heart transplant without a legal guardian, Lori Wood, a nurse at Piedmont Newman Hospital, took matters into her own hands and adopted him, Cathy Fee reports for the Washington Post.

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Pinkard's story

The patient, Jonathan Pinkard, 27, first learned he needed a new heart in August 2018 after he passed out at work.

At the time, Pinkard, who has autism, was homeless. His grandmother and legal guardian died in 2014, the living arrangements he'd made with another family member had ended.

Being homeless while needing a heart transplant was "a pretty scary situation to be in," Pinkard recalled. And since he didn't have someone to help care for him after the transplant, he didn't qualify for the transplant waiting list. "I had no idea what I was going to do," he said.

In December, four months after Pinkard learned he needed a transplant, he was hospitalized again, but this time at Piedmont Newman Hospital, where he was treated by Wood.

After two days of tending to Pinkard, Wood learned that he didn't qualify for a new heart. Wood, who's been a nurse for 35 years, said she became particularly frustrated one day when Pinkard couldn't have certain medical tests done because he wasn't a candidate for the transplant. "That can be very frustrating if you know a patient needs something, and for whatever reason they can't have it," she said. "It gnaws at you."

A few days after Pinkard was admitted to the hospital, Wood gave him an offer he couldn't refuse: Pinkard could move in with Wood and she would become his guardian, which would make him eligible for a transplant again.

A new home

Pinkard accepted the offer and moved in with Wood and one of her sons, Austin Wood, the day he was discharged from the hospital.  

Wood legally became Pinkard's guardian in July, a couple of months before Pinkard underwent a successful heart transplant.

"From the day I went home with her, she felt like my second mom," Pinkard said.

The first day at the house, Pinkard and Wood knew they would be like family. They learned they both loved to watch "Family Feud" and college football. "Right then, I said, 'We're going to get along fine,'" Wood said.

Wood said she looks forward to coming home from work to find Pinkard on the front porch, waiting for her to arrive. "Before I even get out of the car, he's right there, hollering, 'Hey, Mama!' and wanting a hug," she said.

Now, Wood drives Pinkard to all of his doctor appointments, makes sure he takes all 34 of his pills each day, and makes sure he has proper nutrition.

"I'm teaching him how to cook healthy meals, with a goal of him becoming more independent," Wood said. "Jonathan wants a girlfriend; he wants to get a car. He's welcome to stay here as long as he wants to, but I also know that he deserves to have his own life. So at some point, when he's ready, we're going to try to make that happen."

Wood said that in her 35 years of nursing, she'd never done anything like this for a patient. But Pinkard's situation was special, she said.

"For me, there was no choice," she said." I'm a nurse; I had an extra room. It was not something I struggled with. He had to come home with me" (Free, Washington Post, 11/9).

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