As I wrote earlier this year, I don’t need a bucket list.
But I do have a fantasy that I would desperately like to come true. It’s going to take a little more than a plan and a timeline, as the old proverb goes. It’s going to take you.
My friend Caden Bowles is a total car freak, a car guy, a car nut, whatever you want to call this passion that burns at a level few can match. Deputy editor Joe DeMatio and I met him three years ago, when he was eight years old and accepting visitors from a bed at C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital in Ann Arbor. Caden was recovering from cancer, the second part of a nasty double whammy that began with a heart transplant he underwent at the age of six weeks. We’d heard about him from Joe’s friend Meg, a pediatric nurse practitioner, who was startled by the endless car chatter coming from this little peanut. But not as startled as we were. This was not your average eight-year-old car nut. While I was goggled by his Yoda demeanor and expressive hands, which waved around and punctuated his sentences with finger pokes, DeMatio remembers the actual conversation.
“He delivered a lecture about Jaguar. He spoke in coherent, multiclause, complex sentences. He said something like, ‘Jaguar has had some real product strength recently, but clearly challenges remain.’ It was like an industry expert’s analysis.”
The cancer went away, but now, three years later, Caden’s body has decided to reject his heart. I returned to Mott to visit him on his eleventh birthday, May 30. Doctors had arrested the rejection, and Caden was recovering and planning to go home. When I stepped into his room, he was sitting in a chair, hooked up to a bunch of machines with a specialized IV line in his neck, so he couldn’t sit upright. He looked straight up at the ceiling, threw those little alien hands in the air, and shouted, “We haven’t seen each other in three years!” With barely a mention of his medical situation, he joyfully launched into his favorite subject, cars. He showed me his latest project, a newsletter called Full Throttle that he did in pencil on lined paper. He’d drawn a logo of a foot on an accelerator pedal over the F of the title. The story he’d written was a highly opinionated comparison of LaFerrari versus the new McLaren P1. He’d illustrated it with Transformers versions of the two supercars battling it out.
He then segued into everything Ezra Dyer ever wrote. Clearly, he loves Ezra.
I found out two weeks into July that Caden was still at the hospital. His heart was just worn out from the fight, and he now needed a new one. We had a couple of exotic cars at the office for the local Rolling Sculpture car show, so I thought it might cheer him up if I could bring something shiny that he could see from his tenth-floor hospital room. The first car I brought by was an Aston Martin Vanquish, which shut down valet parking while I ran upstairs. The nurses surprised us by loading up Caden and all his equipment and rolling him downstairs and out into the street. He was beside himself, spouting facts and specs the entire time, while admiring the handbuilt V-12. The next day I brought him the SRT Viper, and this time — after he looked at the engine — he got inside the car, and I let him fire it up.
Once the word spread, the doctors took over. One brought a Porsche. Another brought his Cobra. Then Ezra made a pit stop on his way from northern Michigan to North Carolina to give him a look at the Mercedes SLS. He is now on Team Caden.
Today is September 3. Caden has been listed as status 1A, the highest priority on the transplant list, all summer, but the gift of a human heart has not arrived, and tomorrow he is scheduled to get the Berlin mechanical heart that has been waiting for him as a backup.
This is my three-part fantasy: One. A human heart will arrive today, and he will wake up with a new heart. That one will take a miracle and the prayers of every person who is willing or inclined to pray.
Two. Every person who reads this column will sign up to be an organ donor.
Three. We establish a yearly car show for all the kids at Mott. A parade of old cars, exotic cars, anything that will create a diversion and give the kids something to look forward to. And it gives the rest of us something to do when all that’s left is praying. Calling all doctors, all car people, anyone. Send thoughts and information. It’s the one thing I know I can do.
Be a hero: Go to organdonor.gov.