Walla Walla family hopeful for new heart, renewed life

Dan Needham is waiting in Seattle for the possibility of getting a new heart.

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WALLA WALLA -- Dan Needham has spent his adult life working with those who farm this land.

The born-and-raised- Walla Walla man has worked in the farm supply business as long as anyone can remember, most recently with Crop Production Services on Isaacs Avenue.

Needham is known for visiting fields with farmers, personally checking on crops and helping anyone he could whenever he could -- he has just that kind of good heart, said Pierre Remillard, a lifelong friend.

For the last dozen years, however, Needham, 60, has been struggling to be who he is while living with a damaged heart.

The Walla Walla High School and Washington State University graduate was attending a safety meeting in Yakima in 1997 when his heart problem decided to knock on the door.

"He fell out of his chair and died," Remillard said. "There were (emergency medical technicians) there and they revived and saved him."

Doctors installed a defibrillator, and Needham was good to go for the next many years. About two years ago, though, his condition began overwhelming technology.

"He's been through multiple procedures, and they all worked a little bit, but his heart is just giving out on him," Remillard said. "Day by day, he's struggling."

The only true fix will be a new heart.

In the last several months Needham's symptoms have dramatically worsened, said Julie Needham from her husband's intensive care hospital room in Seattle.

The couple has been married 17 years and have raised three children. Julie has taken an unpaid leave of absence from her job as pharmacist for Rite Aid.

Her husband, she said, worked hard until February of this year. "He worked with a heart most people couldn't have got out of bed with."

The Needhams arrived in Seattle in June to begin the testing and waiting game all heart transplant hopefuls must endure.

"They said we got him here just in time," Julie recalled. "They're keeping a very close eye on him."

No matter how good the technology that's been used to help Dan stay alive until now, nothing can take the place of a human heart, she said. "It just gives him time to wait."

Dan must live within 15 minutes of the University of Washington Medical Center and wear an implanted heart pump for three months. The family is paying $1,800 a month for an apartment in a neighborhood that allows for that time limit, Remillard said.

Since beginning the regimen, Dan has cycled through bad times and good, Julie said. "He's been shocked several times and that's like being electrocuted. We're hopeful he stays in 'defib' and not get life-threatening arrhythmia."

The couple remains hopeful Dan will be accepted onto the transplant waiting list, she added. "It sounds like there shouldn't be any reason we can't go there."

Her husband is tough and has impressed the doctors with his resilience. Above all, Dan's heart remains as compassionate about others as ever, Julie pointed out. "He worries about me going through it instead of himself."

If things go according to plan, Dan will have the heart to resume passions such as camping fishing, tinkering with cars and playing World of Warcraft, she said. "He's had a great life, interrupted by a lot of heart problems."

A medical benefit account has been established for Dan Needham at Baker Boyer Bank. Donations can be made at any branch.

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