Not every story has a happy ending. But they do all have something to teach us. In the case of Frank St. Clair the lesson was simple: live life fully and freely, love those around you, and never give up.
We were fortunate enough to get to know Frank as one of the people we profiled in our 2016 Annual Report. Frank was a patient in a clinical trial we are funding to test a new kind of bioengineered vein needed by people undergoing hemodialysis, the most common form of dialysis.
It was an all too brief friendship. Frank passed away on December 17th due to complications from heart disease. But in that time he touched us with his warmth, his kindness, his sense of humor and his generosity. Frank never gave up. He kept fighting to the end. His courage, and compassion for others is a reminder to us that we need to work as hard as we can, to bring treatments to those who need them most.
This is Frank’s story, in his own words:
“I have kidney disease. Had it about four years. When I first started dialysis I had a shunt in my chest. I had to be careful with the shunt, especially at night, in case I pulled it out. It kept clogging up on me and I’d have to go in and get it reopened and that was a terrible thing.
One time when they were opening up the shunt in my chest I ran into the doctor and I got talking to him. He knew how miserable I was and he asked if I wanted to take part in this clinical trial. I said I did and they arranged for me to get this, the device. I just lucked out and was in the right place at the right time. Best move I ever made. Didn’t know anything about stem cells then, sure didn’t, I just knew I was miserable and if there was any way to make life better I just wanted to do it or try it.
And then I did this and it was like day and night.
Since I’ve done this my life has improved 100%. I can do a lot now that I couldn’t do before. My wife and I are so grateful that we can have this. Now we can go out to dinner and do anything we want. We could go out before but we had to always be careful because of the thing in my chest. But now I don’t even think about it. It’s like getting my life back.
I don’t notice it all. I don’t feel it at all. I hate to say it, but I can’t believe I’m on dialysis. I would like to have a kidney but I’ll be honest with you this is the next best thing.
When I go to the clinic there’s a lot of old people there and I just try to make them laugh, tell them jokes, I just can’t believe how good I feel and I want to make others feel good too.
I take the time to talk to them, and give them gum and that cheers them up. My wife has to keep me supplied with gum.
I’ve been married 45 years. We met in high school chorus. I didn’t care too much about singing but I went to chorus because I wanted to meet girls. That’s where I met Paula. Best move I ever made.
I sure don’t feel old. My wife and I are two people that love each other very dearly, that’s my blessing, with her help I couldn’t get old.
I’m a workaholic but until I got the Humacyte device I couldn’t work. I had to sell my business.
I used to be a private detective. It had its moments. My wife used to get mad because I got up at 2 or 3 in the morning to get someone who was in hiding. I had one guy, he was about 6’ 7”, big guy. I knocked at the door and said the name of the guy I was looking for, and asked if he was there. He asked why, so I told him why I was there and he said “It’s me,” and ran right over me and knocked me on the ground and ran away. But I managed to talk him into coming back.
We served a lot of papers on foreclosures and I hated that, and I would always try and help those people if I could.
One time I ran into an old lady, she was a nice woman, and her husband handled all the bills but he died and they had stock in Bernie Madoff’s company and when he went under it left her broke. They had $1.7 million in a company that went bankrupt. She lost it all. She didn’t know what to do. When I went to serve her papers she hadn’t eaten in two days, so I went and bought her and brought some groceries and made sure the electric bill got paid and then called her son and made sure she was taken care of.
My wife said we were going broke helping so many people, but I felt that if you help people it comes back to you and it has.
I volunteer at the VA, help out there when I can. Just trying to give back. Always have. I think if you can help someone you need to do it.
I feel damn lucky, really lucky, more ways than one. You have to understand I have lived 50 years longer than I should have; I could have died in Vietnam, so I would just say do not give up. Don’t give up. My wife wouldn’t let me give up, and things happen. If they are meant to be, of course. Something will happen and I’m telling you. The key is making people around you feel like they want to be around you.”
We are forever grateful to Frank for being willing to be part of a clinical trial that will, hopefully, improve the quality of life for many others. That is his legacy. Our thoughts and wishes go out to his wife Paula