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Petersens thankful for support during Roger's 7-year journey to receiving a new heart

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KEARNEY — Deb Petersen said that making it through her husband’s journey to a new heart would have been impossible without the support they and their family received.

Neighbors kept the lawn clipped and built a ramp so that it was easier for Roger to come and go. The couple’s church and work families were very supportive. He and Deb frequently received encouragement from the community.

There were hospital staff and well-wishers who stretched from one end of the nation to the other through the Caring Bridge website. Also, the donor’s family had the final say about their loved one’s life-giving gift.

And there was Roger himself. His positive attitude lifted the entire Petersen family so that they could endure the emotional setbacks each time doctors told them Roger’s condition was worsening.

“There were discouraging times, but he stayed up,” Deb said. “And we would run into people all the time. They told us that they and their friends — from Florida to Tennessee — were praying for us.”

Petersen Family

Deb and Roger Petersen, center, have two adult daughters. On the left are Todd and Kelsey Tuetken and Trey, 2, of Dripping Springs, Texas. On the right are Melissa and Grant Ericksen and daughter, Ansley, 5, of Holdrege. Not shown is granddaughter Teddi Tuetken, 3 months.

Deb said it was an amazing journey. “We’re glad to be on the other side of it. We just were overwhelmed with all the love and support. Everybody reached out. And UNMC, I was so impressed with the teamwork and problem solving.”

Ultimately, the Petersens had to lean on each other.

The daughters, Melissa Ericksen of Holdrege and Kelsey Tuetken of Dripping Springs, Texas, are young mothers.

Like her mom, Melissa was hands-on throughout the journey, frequently at her father’s side when doctors had news that was hard to swallow. At one point, doctors said Roger was too sick to survive the procedure, so he was removed from the transplant list.

“I remember every time the doctors would talk with us there was a pit in our stomach because things weren’t going well,” Melissa said.

She drove her father to Omaha in mid-June and wheeled him into the hospital. She said she was optimistic that all would go well and that soon she would be wheeling him out with his new heart.

On Father’s Day he was put back on the list, and the wait continued.

“We needed to keep him healthy enough, but he moved up the list the sicker he got,” Deb said.

Moments before he went to the operating room, Kelsey shared her thoughts in an essay in which she said her father’s old heart carried many precious memories and that the new heart would do the same.

“She was saying goodbye to the heart God created and served him well, but now he was getting the new heart and we were going to create new memories with it,” Deb said.

“I couldn’t read what I wrote because I was crying. Melissa read it to him just before he went down for his surgery,” Kelsey said.

After the transplant, Kelsey gave birth to a daughter, Teddi, now 3 months old. On Tuesday, Roger met his newest grandchild for the first time.

Deb Petersen said the seven-year journey deepened the family’s faith. She said Melissa’s 5-year-old daughter, Ansley, asked Deb if her grandpa was going to be OK.

“We decided that, as long as Papa had Jesus in his heart, everything was going to be alright,” Deb said. “Ansley said, ‘Grandma, it will be OK. Jesus can take care of that.’”

Kelsey and Melissa said their mother amazed them as she cared for her husband and the family.

“Life is hard sometimes,” Deb said. “That journey would not have been anything we asked for, but early on I asked God to show me his goodness and presence.”

Deb said that she and Roger have opposite personalities. “We are a lot different. He’s very outgoing. I can just be a wall flower, but he pulls me along.”

Both Petersens say they’re humbled and grateful Roger has a new heart.

“He appreciates every day, and he’s thankful,” Deb said. “It’s humbling that somebody lost a loved one who was an organ donor.”

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